US-Saudi Tensions in Focus as Barack Obama Visits Mideast This Week – Wall Street Journal (blog)
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President Barack Obama arrives in Saudi Arabia this week at a low point in relations between Washington and Riyadh that are likely only to be set on a different course by whoever is elected to the White House in November.
Mr. Obama’s fourth visit since taking office in 2009 comes as relations could further deteriorate as a result of legislation moving through Congress. Despite White House objections, lawmakers could pass a bill that would allow Saudi Arabia to be held liable in U.S. courts for any role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia have already been strained by Mr. Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran. The recent portrayal of Mr. Obama’s views of the alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, as outlined in The Atlantic magazine, have set the stage for an awkward presidential visit in Riyadh that begins Wednesday. “He is clearly irritated that foreign-policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally,” wrote The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.
The relationship is growing more complicated as oil prices drop, underscored this weekend with the collapse of talks in Doha, Qatar. Oil producers failed to negotiate a production freeze intended to strengthen prices after Saudi Arabia demanded that Iran also agree to cap its oil production.
At the same time, the administration announced Saudi Arabia would take nine detainees held at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The move helps Mr. Obama advance one of his last major policy initiatives – closing Guantanamo Bay before he leaves office – that hangs in the balance.
Looming over the president’s trip to Saudi Arabia, as in most of his interactions on the world stage, is the 2016 race to find his successor. The Saudis have found Mr. Obama’s approach to the Kingdom unsettling, particularly his outreach to its longtime adversary, Iran. The hope in Riyadh is for a return to a predictable U.S. policy, something observers believe Hillary Clinton would bring as president.
Saudi relations, however, are just part of a broader portfolio of challenges in the Middle East that Mr. Obama’s successor will inherit.
U.S. relations with Israel are also at a low point. Any prospect of an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians has been punted to the next administration. Tensions with Iran continue, and the survival of the nuclear deal is newly in question, with Tehran arguing the economic relief from sanctions is falling short of what the agreement promised. The conflict in Syria continues to worsen. And the fight against Islamic State has only grown more complex.
Mr. Obama is expected to discuss all of these concerns in Riyadh during a summit with Gulf states that follows on the one he hosted last May at Camp David. But expectations are low for any major advances. Much of that rests on Mr. Obama’s successor.
US-Saudi Tensions in Focus as Barack Obama Visits Mideast This Week – Wall Street Journal (blog)}