Can Obama's Saudi visit save a deteriorating relationship?


President Barack Obama reviews an honor guard upon his arrival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Friday.


Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Barack Obama travelled to Saudi Arabia on Friday for a brief visit with one of the US's key allies in the region.

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Relations between the two countries have been strained in recent years. Saudi officials have urged the US to provide more support for rebels in Syria and to help resolve the intractable standoff between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Saudi officials are also concerned by what they perceived as the US abandoning long-time Egyptian leader, and American ally, Hosni Mubarak and then embracing the Muslim Brotherhood.

President Obama's visit with King Abdullah was brief, and held at the king's desert camp outside Riyadh.

Robert Jordan, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said advances in negotiations with Iran have also alarmed the Saudis. The turnaround in US-Saudi relations comes after years of strengthening ties between the two nations after Sept. 11. Jordan, who was ambassador during those post-9/11 years, says if the US wants to return to that sort of relationship, it will take the sort of personal diplomacy that President George W. Bush developed with then-Crown Prince Abdullah.

"They continued to stay personally in touch with each other. I haven't really seen the same kind of personal connection between President Obama and King Abdullah," Jordan said.

Ultimately, though, Jordan says many more things hold the US and Saudi Arabia together, rather than push them apart. Both have a significant interest in countering Islamic extremism, as well as in Iran not developing a nuclear weapon and in ensuring a stable supply of petroleum products to the world, he added.

"We have a significant common interest in supporting a moderate Muslim approach to the world, which I think the Saudis are increasingly understanding is an important part to that relationship," he said.