WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince on Friday and the two are expected to discuss conflicts in the Middle East including the campaign against Islamic State, a White House spokesman said on Thursday.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of King Salman, is on a visit to the United States aimed at restoring frayed relations with Washington and to promote a plan to slash the kingdom’s dependence on oil revenues. Friday’s meeting will take place at the White House.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the meeting would provide an opportunity to discuss issues including the conflicts in Syria and Yemen and “our cooperation with the Saudis in the campaign against ISIL,” as Islamic State is also known.
U.S. officials have expressed unease about the Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has resulted in large-scale civilian casualties, according to the United Nations and human rights groups.
Reuters reported last week that the United Nations had removed the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a child rights blacklist after intense pressure by Riyadh.
Prince Mohammed, whose influence in Saudi governing councils appears to be growing rapidly, is being given wide access to Obama’s administration.
He met with Obama’s National Economic Council at the White House on Thursday afternoon to discuss the plan the prince is championing to transform the Saudi economy by 2030. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker were among those present.
“U.S. officials welcomed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to economic reform and underscored the United States’ desire to be a key partner in helping Saudi Arabia implement its ambitious economic reform program,” the White House said in a statement after the meeting.
Prince Mohammed, who is also the Saudi defense minister, also is due to meet U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the Pentagon on Thursday.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Additional reporting by Eric Beech; Writing by Timothy Gardner and Warren Strobel; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)