Dubai: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Tuesday with a delegation of American evangelical Christians in the Red Sea city of Jeddah as the kingdom works to forge closer ties with an influential electoral base in the U.S. that could be crucial to the 2020 elections.
The visit comes the same week two U.S. senators met with the crown prince in the first such visit by members of Congress in more than a year.
Prince Mohammed’s meeting with prominent Christian figures marks only the second such visit by American evangelicals to the kingdom.
For the crown prince and other Arab leaders, meetings such as this offer an opportunity to strengthen ties with the Trump administration through his evangelical base of supporters.
For the evangelical visitors, it is an opportunity for interreligious dialogue.
Many U.S. evangelicals support Israel as a core part of their faith.
The Saudi government published photos of the meeting, which was attended by leading American Christian Zionist leaders, including dual U.S.-Israeli national Joel Rosenberg.
The nine-person delegation also included the Rev. Johnnie Moore, a co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council” Larry Ross, a former longtime spokesman for one of America’s most well-known evangelicals Billy Graham” and Pastor Skip Heitzig, whose Calvary Albuquerque church in New Mexico has over 15,000 congregants.
A brief statement issued by the Saudi Embassy in Washington said the two sides discussed promoting coexistence and combating extremism.
In an email response to The Associated Press, Rosenberg said each person in the delegation traveled to Saudi Arabia in an individual capacity and that the group had meetings with a range of officials on Monday and Tuesday, with plans for more meetings on Wednesday.
Traveling by motorcade, they had meetings with U.S. Ambassador John Abizaid, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen, and flew to the ancient Saudi site of Al-Ula for a tour.
Tuesday’s meeting at the royal palace in Jeddah also included Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Princess Reema bint Bandar, Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, and head of the Muslim World League Sheikh Mohammed al-Eissa
The delegation, led by Rosenberg, said in a statement its members were grateful to have deepening relationships in Saudi Arabia “to talk openly, if sometimes privately, about what we believe must change in the kingdom even as we celebrate the kingdom’s progress in so many other areas.”
They said they were “stunned to learn” only two U.S. senators had visited Saudi Arabia this year, describing the kingdom as one of America’s “most important strategic allies”.