Riyadh: A younger brother of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in Washington this week, with President Donald Trump’s evolving policy toward Iran and Yemen expected to be on the agenda for talks with the administration.
Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman’s visit comes days after Trump signaled new openness to potential talks with Saudi Arabia’s chief regional rival, Iran, and a report that the U.S. is looking to enter talks with Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the festering war in Yemen.
The Saudi Press Agency said Prince Khalid “will meet a number of officials to discuss bilateral relations and issues of common concern that support the security and stability of the region,” without providing specifics on meetings planned with administration officials.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo will meet with the prince on Wednesday afternoon, according to the State Department.
While the trip may have been planned well in advance, analysts said there’s little doubt about what the agenda will be now.
“Behind closed doors, there will be concern over Trump’s strategy of potentially meeting with Rouhani and the way forward,” said Ayham Kamel, head of Middle East and North Africa research at the Eurasia Group, referring to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.
Prince Khalid will be seeking assurances from the Trump administration that it isn’t weakening its tough stand towards Iran and will not jeopardise Saudi interests.
“There is going to be a lot of questions about where U.S. policy is on that level.”
Speaking at the conclusion of the Group of Seven summit in France on Monday, Trump said he was willing to meet Rouhani under the right conditions, though he gave few details.
While Rouhani pushed back, saying he wasn’t interesting in a photo-op with Trump, the American president’s offer was reminiscent of his early diplomacy with North Korea, which has resulted in three meetings with Kim Jong Un.
Meet would be historic
A Rouhani-Trump meeting would break with more than four decades of U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic, following the country’s 1978 revolution and subsequent U.S. hostage crisis.
It would also frustrate key American allies in the Middle East, including both Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Citing sources it didn’t identify, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the U.S. administration is also preparing to initiate direct talks with Yemen’s Houthis.
A Saudi-led Arab coalition has been fighting to restore Yemen’s internationally-recognised government after an Al Houthi coup in 2014.
“Prince Khalid will no doubt be seeking assurances from the Trump administration that it is not weakening its tough stand towards Iran and will not jeopardize Saudi interests,” said James Dorsey, senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and its Middle East Institute.