President Barack Obama arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday for talks with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. This will be Obama’s fourth and final visit to the oil rich kingdom. The meeting comes one day before a summit with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders later in the week. The topics of discussion for the summit, as well as those for Obama and Raman’s meeting, will be nearly identical: Iran, ISIS, Syria, Yemen, plummeting oil prices and continuing sectarian violence in the region. Expectations for Obama’s Riyadh visit and the GCC meeting are low. The president is not expected to present a solid plan for US-GCC cooperation on any of the regional issues. With his second term coming to an end next January, Obama seems satisfied to leave the critical decisions on the future of the US-GCC and US-Saudi relationships for his predecessor to handle.
The visit comes at a particularly tense point in the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are in the middle of a geopolitical conflict with Iran for regional hegemony and Riyadh is unhappy with the Iran nuclear deal and the US relationship with Iran. Obama’s reassurances about the US commitment to Saudi security have done little to assuage the Kingdom’s concerns. Saudi Arabia views itself as being in a fight for its life and the reluctance of the US President to openly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its longtime ally is frustrating and bewildering. The 9/11 bill currently in the US Senate is also ruffling feathers. Should the bill pass it will allow the families of September 11th, 2001 victims to sue the Saudi Arabian government. Even though the Saudis deny any involvement in the terrorist attacks, the families of victims have tried repeatedly to bring the matter to court without success.
Following the GCC summit, it will be time to take another look at the Persian Gulf region and talk about what the region could look like when the new US president is inaugurated next January.