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Thu 17 Mar 2016 11:35 AM

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President Obama to visit Saudi Arabia in April

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and US increased in recent weeks after Obama described Saudi Arabia as a "free rider" on American foreign policy

President Obama to visit Saudi Arabia in April
Saudi King Salman (R) meets with US President Barack Obama at the Erga Palace in the capital Riyadh on January 27, 2015. (AFP/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama will meet with leaders of several Gulf nations and Britain as part of his previously scheduled trip to Germany next month, the White House said on Wednesday.

On April 21, Obama will participate in a summit with leaders from the GCC nations, hosted by King Salman.

The White House said the gathering will be an opportunity for leaders to review progress in strengthening US-GCC security cooperation since the productive Camp David Summit hosted by President Obama in May 2015. The US government press secretary said the meeting will also provide an opportunity for leaders to discuss additional steps to intensify pressure on ISIL, address regional conflicts, and de-escalate regional and sectarian tensions.

Ties between old allies the United States and Saudi Arabia, the top oil exporter, have been bumpy since the 2011 Arab uprisings when Riyadh faulted Washington for not doing more to stop the ousting of Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak.

Tensions increased in recent weeks following comments made by Obama in a US magazine interview, when he said wars and chaos in the Middle East will not end until Saudi Arabia and Iran can find a way to "share the neighbourhood" and make some kind of peace.

"The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians, which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen, requires us to say to our friends, as well as to the Iranians, that they need to find an effective way to share the neighbourhood and institute some sort of cold peace," Obama told The Atlantic.

Obama also described Saudi Arabia as a "free rider" on American foreign policy, and criticised what he saw as Riyadh's funding of religious intolerance and refusal to come to an accommodation with Iran.

A senior Saudi Arabian prince this week condemned Obama's comments, saying the American leader had "thrown us a curve ball" in criticising Riyadh's regional role.

"No, Mr Obama. We are not 'free riders'," Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ex-ambassador to Washington and London, wrote in an open letter carried by the local Arab News English-language daily.

In his letter, Turki asked whether Obama had "pivoted to Iran so much you equate the kingdom's 80 years of constant friendship with America to an Iranian leadership that continues to describe America as the biggest enemy, that continues to arm, fund and support sectarian militias in the Arab and Muslim world".