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Wed 28 Aug 2019 08:43 AM

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Saudi minister travels to US as Trump wavers on Iran, Yemen

Deputy Defence Minister Khalid bin Salman 'will meet a number of officials to discuss bilateral relations and issues of common concern that support the security and stability of the region'

Saudi minister travels to US as Trump wavers on Iran, Yemen
Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman

A younger brother of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in Washington this week, with President Donald Trump’s evolving policy toward Iran and Yemen expected to be on the agenda for talks with the administration.

Deputy Defence Minister Khalid bin Salman’s visit comes days after Trump signalled new openness to potential talks with Saudi Arabia’s chief regional rival, Iran, and a report that the US is looking to enter talks with Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the festering war in Yemen.

The Saudi Press Agency said Prince Khalid “will meet a number of officials to discuss bilateral relations and issues of common concern that support the security and stability of the region,” without providing specifics on meetings planned with administration officials.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo will meet with the prince on Wednesday afternoon, according to the State Department.

While the trip may have been planned well in advance, analysts said there’s little doubt about what the agenda will be now.

“Behind closed doors, there will be concern over Trump’s strategy of potentially meeting with Rouhani and the way forward,” said Ayham Kamel, head of Middle East and North Africa research at the Eurasia Group, referring to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. “There is going to be a lot of questions about where US policy is on that level.”

Speaking at the conclusion of the Group of Seven summit in France on Monday, Trump said he was willing to meet Rouhani under the right conditions, though he gave few details.

While Rouhani pushed back, saying he wasn’t interesting in a photo-op with Trump, the American president’s offer was reminiscent of his early diplomacy with North Korea, which has resulted in three meetings with Kim Jong Un.

A Rouhani-Trump meeting would break with more than four decades of US policy toward the Islamic Republic, following the country’s 1978 revolution and subsequent US hostage crisis. It would also frustrate key American allies in the Middle East, including both Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“Saudi Arabia is performing a balancing act,” said James Dorsey, senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and its Middle East Institute. “Prince Khalid will no doubt be seeking assurances from the Trump administration that it is not weakening its tough stand towards Iran and will not jeopardise Saudi interests.”