Saudi officials are very pleased to see Trump making a trip to their country at the end of this month. Riyadh authorities believe the visit can boost their leadership role in regional issues. Moreover, Saudis believe Trump’s forthcoming trip shows the United States has adopted a much different stand than that of former US President Barack Obama on Saudi Arabia and other member states of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council.
Informed Saudi sources have announced that the remarks Trump made after announcing his upcoming trip to the region have made Riyadh officials excited and happy. The comments have dispelled their doubts about the establishment of a new relationship with the new US government, and it is clear to them that Trump seeks a strong alliance with Saudi Arabia. The same sources say Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir’s eulogistic statements about Trump’s visit show Saudi officials are shocked.
The informed sources also quote the foreign minister as saying he is “proud” to see his country hosting the US president in his first overseas trip. All these suggest Saudi officials are very excited and jubilant.
Saudi officials are in a rush to invest in the close relationship taking shape between the US and Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries. Riyadh believes the first year of Trump’s presidency was a determining one, and that it would be expedient for Arabs to take Trump and his policies on board to help them play a more active role in the region.
On his upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, Trump said that Saudi Arabia is home to two major holy sites in the Muslim world, and that based on this, the US will establish new powerbases for cooperation with and supporting its Muslim allies in fighting extremism, terrorism and violence in a bid to create a more promising and just future for the Muslims in those countries.
He also said the US is not supposed to dictate to others how they should live, but rather, has a responsibility to form an alliance of friends and partners who share with the US the goal of fighting terrorism and ensuring security and stability in the Middle East.
Observers believe Trump’s remarks are sending an important message to Saudi Arabia, and that is, he does not accept the Obama administration’s reformist dictates about Saudi Arabia, and, by no means, is seeking reforms in the kingdom. In other words, Trump accepts the reality that Saudi Arabia brooks no sweeping reforms, and only goes for slight reforms in the country given the religious climate prevailing in the society.
Since years ago, Saudi Arabia has been seeking minor reforms while staying away from media hype. The key reason for this concealment is the fear of reaction by radical currents most of which have control over influential institutions such as religious, educational and media forums. The new US administration has already sent the message to visiting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman that it supports reforms in Saudi Arabia the way Riyadh wants. In bin Salman’s trip to the US, he and Trump rehashed their anti-Iran remarks whereby Trump reassured the Saudi side that what he said against Riyadh during his elections campaign was just an attempt to please Republican voters.
Observers are also of the conviction that Trump welcoming bin Salman’s reforms known as “Vision 2030” in order to bring changes and reforms to the country sends the message that Trump supports progress by youth in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab countries. That is the reason why Trump is going to hold a meeting with leaders of Persian Gulf Arab states during his trip to Riyadh. Moreover, following this Islamic-American meeting, Trump will, as he has announced before, create a broad-based coalition in order to confront both Iran and the ISIS at the same time.
The Saudi foreign minister says Trump’s visit to Riyadh will boost Washington’s cooperation with Islamic countries in fighting terrorism and will include Saudi-American meetings as well as meetings with leaders of the Persian Gulf Arab countries and other heads of Islamic and Arab states. Al-Jubair said Saudi Arabia expects the meetings to further consolidate cooperation between the US and Islamic and Arab countries in combating terrorism and extremism and to change the tone of talks on US relations with Islamic and Arab worlds.
It goes without saying that Trump has completely revisited his predecessor Obama’s positions on the Middle East. Now Trump seeks to create a situation in which Washington will be able to review efforts to bring its allies together based on a more consistent and transparent approach.
Martin S. Indyk, the executive vice president of the Brookings Institution, says Obama’s plan to get closer to Persian Gulf Arab states focused on establishing direct relations with Arab nations through a speech he delivered in Cairo in 2009. But Trump’s program, says Indyk, to establish closer ties with Arab countries is based on cooperation with the governments in ruling Arab countries without holding direct talks with their nations, an approach that Arab leaders prefer to that of Obama.
One of Trump’s deputies, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the New York Times daily that there are major differences between the two administrations’ approaches on clinging to power and on influencing Iran. The deputy writes Iran’s power in the region has boosted Arab leaders’ confidence in American leaders following Trump’s harsh remarks during his election campaign. Such trust was virtually non-existent in the Obama era. He visited Saudi Arabia while seeking to launch a process to establish peace between Arabs and Israel. But it seems Trump has taken lessons from Obama’s interaction and abandoned his narrow-minded approach vis-à-vis his Persian Gulf Arab allies.
US officials who accompanied Obama on his plane during his visit to Saudi Arabia told the New York Times that Obama was shocked when he heard Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz said in response to his request that Saudi Arabia would be the last country to make peace with Israel. Following unorthodox changes taking place in the Saudi rule since King Salman bin Abdulaziz took power, Washington has witnessed fundamental changes in its relations with Saudi Arabia during the tenure of two recent US administrations. Saudi Arabia has recently aggrandized Iran’s influence in the region, and acted in conformity with Trump’s policies. A senior White House official said Trump has been surprised at new Saudi rulers’ preparedness to cooperate with Washington.