Saudi Arabia’s new king is at the White House on Friday and Iran is expected to be high on the agenda. The Obama administration has been trying to reassure Gulf Arab allies that a nuclear deal with Iran doesn’t mean that the U.S. will turn away from its other concerns about Iranian activities in the Middle East. To prove that, the U.S. is stepping up military sales to Saudi Arabia.
The White House is billing this visit by King Salman as a chance to follow up on the promises made before the Iran deal to beef up the security of Gulf Arab allies. That doesn’t just mean big ticket military sales.
Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech this week that the U.S. is determined to make sure its allies have all the support they need.
“We are working with them to develop a ballistic missile defense for the Arabian Peninsula, provide special operations training, authorize urgently required arms transfers, strengthen cybersecurity, engage in large-scale military exercises and enhance maritime interdiction of illegal Iranian arms shipments,” Kerry says.
The U.S. has also been backing the Saudi military campaign in Yemen, which the Saudis portray as a proxy war with Iran. Administration officials have raised concerns about the high civilian death toll in that conflict, but have stopped short of publicly criticizing the Saudis for that.
A White House official says he expects President Obama will have a frank discussion with King Salman about Yemen. Human rights groups are urging the president to speak frankly about rights abuses inside the Kingdom, too, from the rising number of executions to the jailing of pro-reform activists and discrimination against women.