President Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman each want something from the other when they sit down for their second White House meeting Tuesday.
Trump, who first hosted Mohammed in Washington a year ago, before the prince became heir apparent to the Saudi throne, wants tens of billions worth of job-creating Saudi investment in this country, a senior administration official told reporters in a briefing Monday. He also wants the Saudis to back off cooperation with Russia, to make progress toward a political settlement of their war in Yemen and to end their damaging dispute with Persian Gulf neighbor Qatar, the official said.
For his part, Mohammed wants more U.S. investment and job creation in Saudi Arabia, along with technology and education help for his campaign to modernize the kingdom. After spending four days in Washington — where he also will meet with top national security officials and lawmakers of both parties — the crown prince plans to travel to Boston, New York, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and Houston before returning home on April 8.
While he and Trump are likely to agree that U.S.-Saudi relations are at an “all-time high,” as Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in his own news briefing in Washington on Monday, and that the United States should adopt what Jubeir called a “tougher” policy toward Iran, the rest of their agendas might be more problematic.
Much of the massive investments and purchases of U.S. goods that Trump said the Saudis had pledged when he visited Riyadh in May have yet to materialize. At the same time, U.S. business leaders are leery of investing in the kingdom, where Mohammed recently arrested — and relieved of more than $100 billion in assets — a number of homegrown capitalists and wealthy royal relatives.
Trump, the senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under White House ground rules, will also press the Saudis to resolve their dispute with Qatar, a key U.S. military asset in the region, before a gulf summit the president plans to host later in the spring.
“The president will put some emphasis on that,” the official said, and urge the Saudis “to take a key leadership role in the region and encourage them to help move this dispute forward.”
Asked about the upcoming summit, Jubeir said he knew of no specific plans. Qatar, he said, “is irrelevant.”
Russia has already scored a visit to Moscow last year from King Salman, Mohammed’s father, as well as a separate visit by Mohammed, as the kingdom moves to diversify its foreign ties. Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed energy and security agreements, including for the intended Saudi purchase of Russia’s powerful S-400 air defense system.
Trump will seek to convince Mohammed that the Russians are up to no good. “Part of the discussion with the Saudis will be considering how Russia is actually attempting to exploit” the situations in Yemen and Syria “to their benefit,” the senior official said.
Russia has blocked a U.N. resolution that would have held Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for developing advanced ballistic missiles, some of which have been fired by Iranian-backed Yemeni rebels into Saudi Arabia, “but at the same time . . . turned to the Saudis and offered sophisticated air defense systems. . . . It’s something that we want to address with them,” the administration official said.
Moscow’s actions, the official said, are “designed to undermine the U.S.-Saudi relationship.”
In the Yemen conflict, U.S. lawmakers have threatened to withhold American military assistance that the Saudis have used in a bombing campaign that has killed countless civilians and sparked a humanitarian disaster.
The administration official said that U.S. military assistance to the Saudi effort in Yemen, which includes advice, intelligence and weapons, “is actually very modest” and would continue. At the same time, “we’ve continued to press the Saudis, in diplomatic channels,” to open humanitarian transit channels it has blocked as part of its war effort against Houthi rebels.
“We’re going to continue to assist Saudi Arabia with its legitimate defense needs,” the official said, “but also . . . push them” toward a “political solution” to the conflict.
A statement issued by the Saudi Embassy in Washington said the crown prince “is keen to engage with American audiences” at all stops on his U.S. tour. On the West Coast, he plans to meet with “philanthropic organizations, technology and defense companies, and entertainment conglomerates, including meetings at Google, Apple and Lockheed Martin.”
In Houston, he will visit the Aramco Research Center, part of the state-owned Saudi oil conglomerate, as well as an Aramco-owned refinery in Port Arthur, Tex.
During his Washington stay, the statement said, he will also “lay the groundwork for the visit later this year” of Salman to the United States.