Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has arrived in the United States amid strained U.S.-Saudi relations.
U.S. President Barack Obama recently described the relationship between the two longtime allies as “complicated.”
Prince Mohammed’s visit comes amid increasing demands that classified portions of a bipartisan joint congressional inquiry into intelligence failures surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks be made public and criticism in Congress that the kingdom is not doing enough to combat radical Islamic extremists.
The prince, who also serves as the Saudi defense minister, has reportedly met with Secretary of State John Kerry, Pentagon chief Ash Carter, and top U.S. lawmakers, without making any public statements.
Prince Mohammed is expected to meet with Obama Friday.
His meetings with American lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WY), could help curb support for the Senate-approved legislation that would allow victims and their families to sue the kingdom over their alleged involvement in 9/11.
Of the 19 men involved in the terrorist attacks, 15 were Saudi nationals. Under current U.S. law, sovereign immunity protects Saudi Arabia from litigation.
The Obama administration has threatened to veto the bipartisan bill, which is widely considered to be targeting the Sunni Arab kingdom.
Moreover, the Saudi deputy prince arrived in the United States two days after 49 people were massacred and 53 others injured at an Orlando LGBT nightclub by a U.S. citizen of Afghan descent, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and traveled to the Middle East kingdom twice.
U.S. officials, who have participated in the meetings with Prince Mohammed, have indicated that “the kingdom’s economic overhaul, regional rival Iran, the wars in Yemen and Syria and the fight against Islamic State were all on the agenda,” reports Bloomberg.
The meetings are in part “aimed at restoring frayed ties with Washington and promoting his plan to wean the kingdom away from oil revenue,” adds Reuters.
According to U.S lawmakers, the prince stressed Saudi efforts to end its oil dependence by 2030.
The Saudis disapprove of the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration and five world powers reached with the kingdom’s archrival Iran in July 2015 and are also discouraged by America’s reluctance to take additional steps to remove Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from office.
“Globally, the Saudis are unnerved by Obama’s nuclear agreement with archrival Iran, and want Washington to do more to help oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” notes Reuters.
Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, pointed out that the prince expressed reservations towards “the United States opening to Iran and Russia’s attempt to increase its Middle East role.”
“He did a good job of laying out some of the complications that have arisen … relative to our dealings with Iran and the fact that people in the region are turning toward Russia as a second ally,” said the senator.
The Wall Street Journal reports that improving Saudi Arabia’s public image will be a major focus of Prince Mohammed’s his visit.
Saudi Arabia’s reputation “has suffered this year as a Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen has dragged on and as Obama administration officials have been more vocal in their critiques of the longtime U.S. ally,” notes the Journal.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and his colleagues in the Senate Armed Services Committee also met with the prince.
He described the meeting as “a productive and open exchange,” adding, “Our main focus was our mutual security interests, including counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State and the threat posed by Iran’s aggression in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and the broader Middle East.”
During his U.S. tour, Prince Mohammed is expected to stop in California and New York.
“Prince Mohammed and other Saudi officials visiting the U.S. this week and next are eager to convince people on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and in Congress that its new economic plan is worth supporting,” notes the Journal.
“Riyadh revealed plans in April to free Saudi Arabia from its dependence on oil revenues, in part by selling a stake in its state-owned oil company and creating the world’s largest sovereign-wealth fund,” it adds.