RIYADH - US President Barack Obama arrived in Riyadh on Friday, aiming to persuade King Abdullah Saudi Arabian concerns that America is slowly disengaging from the Middle East are unfounded.
Obama, on his first visit to the kingdom since 2009, was due to meet Abdullah and other senior princes of the ruling al-Saud family in the monarch's desert farm at Rawdat Khuraim northeast of the capital Riyadh.Obama descended to a red carpet, where he was welcomed by a group of Saudi princes. Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice followed Obama down the stairs and into the receiving line.
While Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, supplies less petroleum to the United States than in the past, safeguarding its energy output remains important to Washington, as does its cooperation in combating al Qaeda.
Saudi rulers are hoping for the United States to shift its position on support for Syrian rebels, whom Riyadh has backed in their battle to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
They have previously fretted about Washington's reluctance to allow the supply of surface-to-air missiles, sometimes known as manpads, for fear they could end up in the hands of militants outside of Syria.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said coordination with the kingdom on Syria policy, particularly regarding providing assistance to the Syrian rebels, had improved.
"That's part of the reason why I think our relationship with the Saudis is in a stronger place today than it was in the fall when we had some tactical differences about our Syria policy," he told reporters on Air Force One.
But he added Washington still had concerns over the supply of manpads to rebels, and that one of the main topics Obama and Abdullah would discuss would be how to empower the moderate opposition to counter Assad and isolate extremist groups.