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Obama seeks closer Saudi ties

Thursday, June 04, 2009, Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Arab News


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Riyadh: Talks between Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and US President Barack Obama here yesterday focused on joint efforts, closer coordination and more Saudi support to revive the Middle East peace process while many other regional and international issues were also taken up for discussion by the two leaders. Some of them included the nuclear standoff with Iran, oil and global energy market as well as US relations with the Muslim world.


“I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began and to seek His Majesty King Abdullah’s counsel,” Obama said before the talks.


The US president said he was confident that, working together, the United States and Saudi Arabia could make progress on a host of issues for the benefit of the two countries.


“Obviously, the United States and Saudi Arabia have a long history of friendship, we have a strategic relationship,” Obama said.


King Abdullah thanked Obama for visiting Saudi Arabia and said, “The visit was not surprising for the two countries because the US is a friend and an ally of Saudi Arabia since the days of the late King Abdul Aziz and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”


The meeting between King Abdullah and the US president took place at the king’s sprawling Janadriya ranch, 45 km north of Riyadh.


The king presented Obama with the King Abdul Aziz Medallion, which is the Kingdom’s highest honor, and called him a “distinguished man who deserves to be in this position.”


On the Middle East peace process, Obama said that there are a lot of Israelis “who recognize that their current path is unsustainable, and they need to make some tough choices on settlements to achieve a two-state solution — that is in their long-term interest — but not enough folks are willing to recognize that publicly.”


The talks also focused on cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

After the first round of talks, King Abdullah and the US president broke off into a private session that lasted at least two hours.


The US president pointed out that leaders in the region should be more candid about their concerns.


“Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else publicly,” he said. “There are a lot of Arab countries more concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapon than the ‘threat’ from Israel, but won’t admit it.”


The presidential visit was condemned by Al-Qaeda in a video message aired by Al-Jazeera yesterday. Both countries dismissed the message as irrelevant and predictable.


Obama is scheduled to fly to Cairo today where he will deliver his much-awaited speech to try to build bridges with the Muslim world. He will also meet with President Hosni Mubarak.


Referring to the speech the US president is to deliver in Cairo today, a statement released by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) said that the Muslim world would keep an eye on what Obama says. Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, OIC secretary-general, left for Cairo to attend the event following an invitation by the Egyptian government.


Ihsanoglu also renewed OIC’s commitment to cooperate in order to boost constructive dialogue between the US and OIC member states.


Obama’s speech in Cairo is said to be an opportunity to deliver a “broader message about how the United States can change for the better” its relationship with the Muslim world.

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