Obama meets with Saudi king

Obama meets with Saudi king
© Getty Images

President Obama on Wednesday met with Saudi King Salman, kicking off two days of tense talks with the United States’s Gulf state allies. 

Obama and King Salman exchanged pleasantries at the beginning of their meeting at Erga Palace in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. 

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"I and the Saudi people are very pleased that you, Mr. President, are visiting us here in the kingdom," King Salman said through a translator.

The president thanked the king for hosting him and convening a Gulf Cooperation Council summit meeting on Thursday. 

"The American people send their greetings, and we are very grateful for your hospitality,” Obama said. 

The rest of the conversation was expected to cover much thornier ground.

Obama faces a tough task of assuaging Arab allies’ concerns over instability in the Middle East, the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Iran’s influence in the region. 

The president’s trip to Saudi Arabia also comes amid the backdrop of a growing fight at home over whether to publicly release documents that may implicate Saudi officials in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. 

Saudi officials have long denied any involvement in the attacks, and their government has threatened to sell off $750 billion in U.S. assets if Congress passes a bill that would allow U.S. citizens to sue the Saudi government for their alleged role in the attack. 

The legislation has bipartisan support in Congress, but Obama has signaled he would veto it, saying it could damage U.S.-Saudi relations and put Americans in legal jeopardy.

The president will also meet with leaders from Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates at Thursday’s summit. 

Those nations are all important U.S. partners in the military campaign against ISIS, but they have all voiced concern that the nuclear agreement struck last year with Iran has empowered their traditional adversary’s position in the Middle East. 

Obama is hoping to convince the Gulf states to at least tone down their complaints about the deal while also boosting their involvement in the fight against ISIS as it seeks to expand its footprint in nations like Libya and Afghanistan.  

The president’s visit to Saudi Arabia is part of a series of trips abroad in his final year meant to set his foreign policy legacy. Obama will also make stops in Germany and the United Kingdom during his six-day overseas tour.