WHITE HOUSE --- Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday amid heightened tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.
“Iran has not been treating that part of the world or the world itself appropriately,” Trump said alongside Crown Prince Mohammed in the Oval Office. “A lot of bad things are happening in Iran.’
Citing the near demise of ISIS in the Middle East, the president declared that the U.S. military forces will be departing from “certain areas that we’ve wanted to get out of for a long period time,” saying “other countries can handle it. At this point they’ll be able to handle it.”
The crown prince responded, "That’s why we are here today — to be sure we’ve tackled all the opportunities and achieve it and also get rid of all the threats facing” the United States, Saudi Arabia “and the whole world.”
Trump added that the United States has “a zero tolerance for the funding of terrorists,” noting that Saudi Arabia has been working very hard on that “as well as certain other countries” in the Middle East that he did not name.
“It will not be allowed,” Trump emphasized. “The funding of terrorism – it’s over,” declared the president.”
Saudi Arabia, along with two other Persian Gulf states and Egypt, has been feuding with Qatar, accusing the sultanate of funding Islamic terrorism. Critics of Riyadh, meanwhile, have pointed to Saudi Arabia long propagating a fundamentalist Salafi strain of Islam, which is often associated with violent extremism.
Trump praised Saudi Arabia as “a big purchaser of equipment and lots of other things” that is “bringing hundreds of billions of dollars back into the United States.”
In the Oval Office meeting, Trump held and read from posters touting finalized and pending sales of military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which the president said are responsible for “for over 40,000 jobs in the United States”
“The relationship was, to put it mildly, was very, very strained during the Obama administration and the relationship now is probably as good as it’s really ever been,” declared Trump.
Trump has explicitly sided with the Sunni monarchy in its rivalry with Shi'ite Iran.
“Today we were able to engage with Saudi leadership, as we do on an ongoing basis, to increase our coordination on regional issues, advance shared strategic objectives and develop new channels and capabilities to institutionalize these interactions,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters during Tuesday’s regular briefing.
The 32-year-old crown prince is also meeting in Washington with several members of the president’s cabinet, including the secretaries of commerce, defense and treasury, as well as the chief of the Central Intelligence Agency and congressional leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties.
The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the White House envoy for Middle East peace, Jared Greenblatt, are to join Prince Mohammed for dinner on Tuesday evening, according to the Saudi embassy.
In an interview with CBS, Prince Mohammed compared Iran's leader to Hitler and said if Iran gets nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia will follow suit.
“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible," he said.
This is putting pressure on Trump ahead of a key May deadline on the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“We’ll talk about that today,” said the crown prince alongside Trump on Tuesday.
The heir to the throne of the House of Saud has presided over a series of social reforms, including allowing Saudi women to drive and attend football games — part of his plan to modernize the ultra-conservative country and make its economy more innovative and sustainable.
But his plan to attract foreign investors could run into challenges. In November, he oversaw the arrests of more than 150 Saudi princes, ministers, military officials and businessmen who were detained at a luxury hotel in Riyadh.
While the crown prince said it was an anti-corruption drive, many saw it as a purge of his rivals.
"They want investors to come in, but if you're an investor now why would you go to Saudi Arabia if you know your investments might not be safe and you know the state can just come in and confiscate your financial assets?" said Andreas Krieg of King's College London.
Saudi Arabia is facing criticism for its role in the war in Yemen, which started while the crown prince was defense minister. U.S.-backed Saudi forces are confronting Iran-supported Houthi rebels. It has led to the deaths of thousands of civilian deaths and a humanitarian disaster in Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries.
Asked by reporters at Tuesday’s briefing if the president raised the issue of the high number of civilian deaths in Yemen, as well as the lack of religious liberty in Saudi Arabia, Huckabee Sanders responded that she was not aware those matters were specifically discussed.