King Abdullah of Saudi Arabian was welcomed to his first Oval Office meeting with US President Barack Obama Tuesday, with Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and energy at the top of the agenda.
Obama told reporters of their shared desire to see Palestinians and Israelis "living side by side" in peace, a point discussed at length over their working lunch. Abdullah expressed his continued support for the Arab Peace Initiative for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the meeting. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq were also addressed. Obama said that the two countries would continue to "work together towards combating violent extremism."
"We discussed the Middle East peace process and the importance of moving forward in a significant and bold way in securing a Palestinian homeland that can live side by side with a secure and prosperous Israeli state," Obama told reporters after the meeting.
The two leaders paid each other high compliments before the camera, with Obama saying he "always valued your majesty's values and insights" and speaking of the "extraordinary hospitality" extended to him during his visit to Riyadh last June, the first meeting between the two heads of state. Abdullah, for his part, conveyed what he described as the worldwide conviction that "you are an honorable and good man."
Yet the pleasantries conceal what some analysts see as a widening gulf between the two allies, as Saudi Arabia hedges its relationship with the West over concern about the growing influence of Iran amidst a feeling that the US isn't doing enough to stop Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writing on foreignpolicy.com, said the "distancing" going on in the US-Saudi relationship was also clear in the case of oil policy.
The talk on oil comes at time when the US is in the midst of reassessing its energy policy. Earlier Tuesday Obama held a bi-partisan meeting with nearly two dozen lawmakers with the aim of pushing forward comprehensive legislation to move Americans away from fossil fuel and towards greener alternatives.
"Though for many years, in a clear statement of diplomatic priorities, the kingdom was the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States, it has now slipped behind Canada and Mexico," he noted.
Netanyahu to visit White House next week
The visit also comes one week ahead of a trip by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to the White House where he will address a similar slate of issues. Netanyahu was due to come to Washington earlier this month, but canceled to deal with news of Israel's deadly raid on a flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade.
In the face of international criticism of Israel's behavior in the incident, the US Congress has expressed strong support for Israel and is urging the Obama administration to do the same.
On Tuesday, 338 members of the US House of Representatives had signed onto Obama calling on him to prevent anti-Israel action on the raid by the United Nations. "We urge you to continue to use US influence and, if necessary, veto power to prevent any biased or one-sided resolutions from passing," states the letter, sponsored by Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gary Peters (D-MI). "We are writing to express our strong support for Israel's right to defend itself," they and their co-signatories said. "We believe that it is in the national security interest of the United States to unequivocally reiterate that the United States stands behind its longtime friend and ally." A similar letter signed by 87 US Senators was sent to Obama last week.