Obama to visit Saudi Arabia as friendship falters

Obama to visit Saudi Arabia as friendship falters
The US President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that he would visit Saudi Arabia next month as Washington-Riyadh's relationship shows signs of fraying.
2 min read
16 March, 2016
Riyadh and Washington have grown more distant during Obama's last presidential term [Getty]

President Barack Obama has said he will visit Saudi Arabia and attend a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in what looks like an attempt to patch up the damaged relationship between the two countries.

Obama's announcement comes as friction continues between the US and Gulf nations - led by Saudi Arabia - who accuse Washington of allowing rival Iran to extend its reach in the Middle East.

The US has made a perceived retreat from the Middle East recently, which Riyadh believes allowed Iran to fill the vacuum.

Iran is heavily involved in the Syria war on the side of the regime, while Saudi Arabia backs the rebels trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

On Tuesday, Riyadh's former ambassador to the US Prince Turki al-Faisal criticised Obama in an opinion piece for al-Sharq al-Awsat after the US president accused Saudi Arabia of feeding extremism in the region during an interview with The Atlantic.

"You accuse us of fomenting sectarian strife in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. You add insult to injury by telling us to share our world with Iran, a country that you describe as a supporter of terrorism," Faisal wrote.

"[He] pivoted to Iran so much that you equate the kingdom's 80 years of constant friendship with America to an Iranian leadership that continues to describe America as the biggest enemy, that continues to arm, fund and support sectarian militias in the Arab and Muslim world."

Saudi Arabia has said that Iran is extending its influence in the Middle East including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain. 

In Yemen, Riyadh is leading a military campaign against the Zaydi-Shia Houthi rebel group which Tehran is said to support.

The US-Saudi relationship has not been helped by rapid US shale oil production, which has seen oil prices tumbling, badly affecting Riyadh's coffers.

Agencies contributed to this story.