WASHINGTON // President Barack Obama praised Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economy during a meeting with the kingdom’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office on Friday.
Mr Obama commended Prince Mohammed for pursuing economic reforms to make Saudi Arabia less reliant on oil revenues.
White House spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said Mr Obama thanked Saudi Arabia for its contribution to the coalition fighting ISIL.
The leaders also spoke about the need for a political transition in Syria away from president Bashar Al Assad.
Prince Mohammed and Mr Obama “discussed the important role Saudi Arabia can play in addressing extremist ideology,” the White House said.
They also voiced support for the new UN-backed unity government in Libya, and discussed Iran’s destabilising activities in the region, she said.
Prince Mohammed, the son of Saudi King Salman, also expressed support for the global climate deal struck in Paris.
Prince Mohammed’s talks with Mr Obama was the most high-profile meeting of his first official US trip, which comes at a time of increased tension between the White House and Riyadh as well as growing criticism of the kingdom in congress.
On Thursday, Prince Mohammed met with the US secretary of defence, Ashton Carter, and the US secretaries of commerce and the treasury. Earlier in the week the prince, whose delegation includes the Saudi finance minister and commerce and investment minister, also met senior members of congress from both parties to discuss the importance of the bilateral partnership as well as his economic plan and regional issues including the fight against ISIL and the wars in Syria and Yemen.
The deputy crown prince’s visit to the US is aimed in large measure at selling his plan for economic transformation in the kingdom to US officials as well as the technology, defence and finance industries that he hopes will increase direct investment and economic partnerships with Saudi.
Members of congress from both parties said they were impressed by Prince Mohammed during their discussions. Senator Lindsey Graham told Bloomberg News that Riyadh is “an important ally”. “They’re not perfect, nor are we,” he said. “But I think the deputy crown prince represents a bright future, and we just need to keep the alliance.”
Despite the frayed ties with Mr Obama’s administration over Syria policy and its relationship with Iran, the core of the bilateral relationship is based on mutual security interests, a message underscored by the prince’s visit and the recent high-level meetings between Gulf leaders and Mr Obama, most recently in Riyadh in April.
In a statement after the prince’s meeting with Mr Carter, the Pentagon said that “the two leaders discussed a wide range of security issues of interest to our two nations, including the kingdom’s efforts to upgrade its military capabilities, the fight against ISIL, and the situation in Yemen, especially the Saudi role in the recent successful operations aimed at Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula”.
Another goal of Prince Mohammed’s trip is likely to be the strengthening of personal relationships with US leaders as he becomes the most influential liaison figure between the two countries.
* With reporting from Associated Press