President Barack Obama could be in for awkward meetings next week when he travels to Saudi Arabia to discuss the fight against the Islamic State group and other defense issues.
The meetings announced Thursday come after the publication of an Atlantic magazine article in which Obama described the American relationship with Saudi Arabia as “complicated” and conveyed his displeasure with some decisions made in Riyadh. The relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has faltered in recent years as differences over Israel, Iran and human rights issues become more pronounced.
“The only way to truly deal with global challenges is if everybody does their part,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Reuters reported Thursday. Rhodes was alluding to questions over nations' contributions to the fight against the group — also known as ISIS — in Iraq, Syria and the broader region.
Obama along with Defense Secretary Ash Carter will address the fight against ISIS as well as differences over policy with Iran during the trip. They will meet with Saudi King Salman on Wednesday and also attend a summit with leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council on Thursday. Rhodes said discussions would focus on how the Persian Gulf nations — Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, as well as Saudi Arabia — can “confront asymmetric threats.”
Obama paid a visit to the CIA this week to receive a briefing on ISIS and how to counter the group that controls swathes of territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria. The U.S. State Department said this week that the number of ISIS fighters in those countries was at the lowest level since 2014.
Along with security issues, low oil prices have hit the regional economy and Obama is expected to discuss economic options with leaders.
After his trip to the Middle East, Obama will head to Europe with meetings scheduled in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Hanover, Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Terrorism, the fight against ISIS, Afghanistan and Russia aggressiveness in Eastern Europe are all on the agenda for discussions, the White House said.