Saudi deputy crown prince visits US for talks

Saudi deputy crown prince visits US for talks
Saudi deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman visits the US on Sunday with economic and political ties topping the agenda, as well as a possible meeting with the UN's chief.
3 min read
12 June, 2016
The deputy crown prince is expected to meet US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter [AFP]

Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince landed in the United States on Sunday for an important visit expected to last two days amid a backdrop of increasing tensions in Saudi-US relations.

Mohammed bin Salman started his visit in Washington with economic issues and Saudi's military campaign in Yemen topping the agenda but it remains unclear whether the trip will include a meeting with US President Barack Obama.

Relations between the two allies have recently hit turbulence following a spate of major international developments as well as domestic cases in the US. 

Saudi Arabia vehemently opposed the Iran nuclear deal greenlighted by the Obama administration and rejects subsequent calls to bring Iran out of its international isolation.

Simultaneously pressure on the Obama administration to release confidential files related to the 9/11 attacks that allegedly implicate Saudi individuals as well as legal efforts to allow families of the victims to sue foreign nations led to further tensions.

Yet, both states remain erstwhile allies with US President Obama reaffirming his ties to Saudi Arabia and fellow gulf nations in a visit in April.

During his visit to the US, 30-year-old Saudi Defence Minister Muhammad bin Salman is set to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Ashton Carter to discuss the war in Yemen where Saudi Arabia is heading a military campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The deputy crown prince is also set to discuss the latest developments in Syria, where Riyadh is backing Syrian rebels against President Bashar al-Assad.

On the economic front, Muhammad bin Salman is expected to sign several significant agreements with American companies as part of the major economic reforms spearheaded by the deputy crown prince as part of Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030" designed to wean the kingdom off its oil dependency.

Meeting the UN chief

During his US visit, Mohammed bin Salman is expected to meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon days after the UN criticised the kingdom for resorting to "undue pressure" to remove the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a UN blacklist by threatening to cut off funding. 

The UN's decision to take the coalition off the list of child rights violators triggered a storm of protest from rights groups who accuse the UN chief of caving in to Saudi pressure and damaging the world body's credibility.

In his first public remarks about the uproar, Ban said he took the "painful and difficult" decision when he faced the "very real prospect" that millions of children would suffer if countries de-funded UN programmes.

"It is unacceptable for member-states to exert undue pressure," Ban told reporters. "Scrutiny is a natural and necessary part of the United Nations."

The United Nations blacklisted the Saudi-led coalition after concluding in a report released a week ago that it was responsible for 60 percent of the 785 children killed in Yemen last year.

Agencies contributed to this report.