Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

With Trump, Saudis see chance for reset in United States relationship

The Obama administration invested years on a high-stakes gamble to negotiate a deal to limit Iran's nuclear program in return for easing global economic sanctions.

During his time in Riyadh, Trump is expected to emphasize a shared commitment to fighting the Islamic State, al-Qaida and other terrorist networks - including those backed by Iran - and to back it up with a major new package of weapons sales for the Saudis.

"The chance of something going wrong - you insult the hosts, you get sick, your boss gets sick, you miscommunicate with your hosts, you make a scheduling error, you need to change the schedule just hours before a meeting, the motorcade get stuck in traffic, or the plane is stranded due to bad weather - is extremely high", said Julianne Smith, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and is now a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security.

Sunday will also see the US president, along with Jordan's King Abdullah II, take part in a meeting of Twitter users who will discuss means of fighting extremism in the digital age. "I hope that there is not one single tweet about anything in the nine days he is gone". Trump is a collegial character who has spent extended time socializing with some visiting foreign leaders so he might actually enjoy the interaction.

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Trump's aides acknowledge the trip will not erase the political turmoil back home. Polls suggest President Hassan Rouhani, who supported the negotiations that led to the Iran deal, is facing a strong challenge from a hard-line cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, who has criticized the accord and is far more suspicious of the West. Some analysts, such as Danielle Pletka - vice president for foreign and defence policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute - see a broad opportunity for Trump to reshape U.S. policy in the Middle East. Riyadh is expecting the US President to make assurances that his administration will continue to crack down on the Islamic Republic and to maintain the pressure it is exerting with regards to its malign activities.

On issues big and small, Trump has repeatedly flipped back and forth between isolationism and interventionism, and world leaders are eager to find out which perspective will emerge on a trip that is already being viewed with trepidation by foreign policy experts.

Still, Trump does have one advantage. USA allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia often expressed deep dissatisfaction with the Obama administration's foreign policy, and outreach to Iran, capped by the controversial nuclear deal.

KEITH: Well, President Trump had previously said that he thought North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was obsolete. At long last, the United States had dropped even the pretension of human rights concern, with Trump chummying with various Middle East dictators in the Oval Office, thus putting on display the US's "imperialist hubris at its worst", to paraphrase a poem from Kipling. He's also likely to complain about the Obama administration's Iran nuclear deal, though his administration has certified that Tehran is sticking to the terms of the agreement.

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For his part, Lee said Moon asked him to express his "gratitude" to Xi for his message of congratulations after the election. South Korea's new President Moon Jae-In dispatched Lee to Beijing in the wake of his election victory last week.

Khaled Maeena, the Jeddah-based former editor of the Arab News and Saudi Gazette, said Arab leaders should hold Trump accountable for his harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric and his attempts to impose a travel ban on select Muslim-majority countries.

Leaders and representatives of 55 Arab and Muslim countries are expected to take part in a string of summits in Riyadh on Saturday and Sunday during a scheduled visit by U.S. President Donald Trump.

"He will call for Muslim leaders to promote a peaceful vision of Islam", he said.

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