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Obama visits Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman

Reuters by King Salman

US President Barack Obama is heading a large, bipartisan US delegation travelling to Saudi Arabia following the death of King Abdullah.

Mr Obama cut short a trip to India to make time for the visit, during which he will meet the new ruler King Salman.

He is being accompanied by prominent Republican officials, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and Condoleezza Rice.

Saudi Arabia is a key US ally in a region riven by war and rivalries.

Mr Obama had been due to visit the Taj Mahal in India on Tuesday, but had to cancel to allow for the four-hour visit to Riyadh.

In an interview with CNN before he left India, Mr Obama suggested he would be unlikely to raise the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison last May for “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and “going beyond the realm of obedience”.

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Analysis: Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent

Syria, the international campaign against the jihadists of Islamic State (IS), the collapse of the government in Yemen, and the thaw in US-Iranian relations are all likely topics for discussion during President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

The two countries have been strategic partners for 70 years but recently there have been strains below the surface of their relationship. The Saudis were dismayed when the US called off their proposed missile strikes against the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in response to his alleged role in a chemical weapons attack in 2013.

The Saudis, like most of the Gulf Arab states, want Mr Assad gone. While they support the US-led coalition against IS, they believe the group can never be defeated while the Syrian president remains in power. But the Saudi way is to avoid any confrontational talk when hosting a leader of Mr Obama’s stature.

Instead, they are likely to leave any tough talking to officials in private.

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His visit would focus on “paying respects to King Abdullah, who in his own fashion represented some modest reform efforts within the kingdom”, the president added.

On human rights, Mr Obama said: “We have maintained a sustained dialogue with the Saudis and with all the other countries we work with. What I have found effective is to apply steady, consistent pressure, even as we are getting business done that needs to get done.”

“And oftentimes that makes some of our allies uncomfortable. It makes them frustrated, sometimes we have to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability.”

Also among the 30-strong US delegation are CIA director John Brennan, John McCain, the Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, and Republican former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.

Saudi Arabia is among the US-led coalition of Western and Arab nations conducting air strikes against Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

But relations between Washington and Riyadh have been strained by differences over US policy on the Syrian conflict and its nuclear diplomacy with Shia power Iran – a regional rival of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.

Source:BBC

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