Saudi Arabian officials delivered a snub to President Obama Wednesday as he arrived in Riyadh to reassure the anxious ally about his nuclear deal with Iran and to seek more cooperation in the fight against Islamist extremists in Syria and Iraq.
Stepping off of Air Force One at the airport in the Saudi capital, Mr. Obama was greeted not by King Salman but by a lower-ranking royal, Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud, the governor of Riyadh. Ahead of the president’s arrival, Saudi state television showed the king personally greeting senior officials from other Gulf nations arriving at an air base.
Unlike some previous visits, Mr. Obama’s arrival was not shown live on Saudi state television, either.
Mustafa Alani, a security analyst at the Gulf Research Center, said the Saudi decision not to send a high-level delegation to greet Mr. Obama was unusual and intended to send a clear message that they have little faith in him.
“He will find a leadership that’s not ready to believe him,” Mr. Alani said. “The Saudis had disagreements with previous presidents. Here you have deep distrust that the president won’t deliver anything.”
Most of the Gulf Arab monarchies have in private been sorely disappointed by Mr. Obama’s presidency, regarding it as a period in which the U.S. has pulled back from the region, giving more space to their arch rival Iran to expand its influence.
Middle East analysts said Mr. Obama, who angered the Saudis in a recent interview by saying they should “share” the region with Iran, is unlikely to get much cooperation from Gulf leaders who are waiting for the lame-duck president to leave office.
“There is a recognition that it is the end of Obama’s presidency and that there is not going to be a big reversal in his worldview or certainly his views toward the Gulf states,” said Muath al Wari, a national security specialist at the progressive Center for American Progress.
James Jay Carafano, a national security analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the looming change in administrations will make it more difficult for Mr. Obama to secure commitments from Gulf leaders for more contributions to the fight against the Islamic State and al Qaeda.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the region about ‘what next’? What next from President Trump? What next from President Cruz? What next from President Clinton?” Mr. Carafano said. “It’s very difficult for these people to sit down and divine what comes next.”
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain are participating in the regional summit on Thursday. In addition to the Islamic State, the talks are also expected to address the Saudi-led military campaign against Shiite rebels and their allies in neighboring Yemen.
Concerns about Islamic State extremists were also on the agenda for Mr. Obama’s meeting late Wednesday in Riyadh with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and a key Emirati leader, the White House said.
In his meeting with the king, Mr. Obama “underscored the importance of accelerating the campaign against” the Islamic State and of stabilizing areas in Iraq liberated from the militants, the White House said. They also discussed “the challenges posed by Iran’s provocative activities in the region” and agreed on the need for an “inclusive” approach to de-escalate regional sectarian conflicts.
Mr. Obama further raised concerns about human rights and “noted their importance to the United States,” the White House said.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and CIA Director John Brennan were among the U.S. officials accompanying Mr. Obama. Mr. Carter, meeting with defense ministers from the Gulf nations Wednesday, pressed them to provide more economic and political support to Iraq in a preview of themes Mr. Obama was expected to emphasize.
The president’s visit also came amid renewed tensions over Saudi Arabia’s possible role in the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Obama, under pressure from 9/11 families to support a bill that would allow them to sue the Saudi government, greeted the king warmly upon his arrival at the ornate Erga Palace, adorned with portraits of Saudi leaders and crystal chandeliers.
“The American people send their greetings, and we are very grateful for your hospitality,” Mr. Obama told the king.
King Salman told Mr. Obama, “Thank you Mr. President, and feeling is mutual between us and the American people.”
The Saudis are threatening to sell off $750 billion in U.S. assets if the bill allowing victims of terrorism to sue foreign governments becomes law.
The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, authored by Sens. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and John Cornyn, Texas Republican. Mr. Obama said it would open the door for foreigners to sue U.S. diplomats and military personnel, as well as exposing U.S. taxpayers to similar lawsuits.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, Florida Republican, said he was disappointed by the president’s veto threat. He said the truth about possible Saudi support for the 9/11 terrorists needs to come out.
“It’s disgraceful that victims’ families cannot get into court to prove what senior intelligence officials believe to be true,” Mr. Buchanan said. “Our government should never put Saudi Arabia’s interests ahead of the American people.”
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.