U.S. President Barack Obama (R) salutes as he boards Marine One to begin his travel to Europe from the White House in Washington March 23, 2014. ( U.S. President Barack Obama departed Washington on Sunday night for the Netherlands, his first stop on a four-nation trip that will include visits to Belgium, Italy and Saudi Arabia.
Obama is expected to arrive in Riyadh on Thursday and meet with King Abdullah to discuss a range of security issues in the Middle East that have caused some strains in the bilateral relationship.
“As part of regular consultations between our two countries, President Obama will travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in March 2014 to meet with His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud,” the White House said in a statement last month.
While his visit to the European countries will likely be dominated by Ukraine, his trip to the Gulf kingdom will include discussions about “Gulf and regional security, peace in the Middle East, countering violent extremism, and other issues of prosperity and security,” the statement added.
The last meeting between Obama (R) and King Abdullah was in 2010. (Reuters)
“The President looks forward to discussing with King Abdullah the enduring and strategic ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia as well as ongoing cooperation to advance a range of common,” the White House said.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have been allies since the kingdom was formed in 1932, giving Riyadh a powerful military protector and Washington secure oil supplies.
In recent months, both countries have been strained by regional crises and concerns.
In October, Saudi Arabia turned down a seat on the United Nations Security Council, in a display of anger at the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria.
It was then that Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief said the kingdom was looking at making a “major shift” in relations with the United States.
In November, King Abdullah met Secretary of State John Kerry and discussed concerns about the unwillingness of the United State to intervene in Syria and recent overtures to its arch-rival, Iran.
Meanwhile, Obama will be taking his hard line on Russia to Europe and will see how far European allies are willing to go to stop Moscow from moving deeper into Ukraine after annexing Crimea.
In talks on Monday at The Hague with fellow leaders of the Group of Seven industrial democracies, Obama faces a test on whether he can bring along European allies to increase the pressure on Russia.
He has threatened U.S. sanctions against key sectors of the Russian economy. European allies have far closer economic ties to Russia than the United States and their still-fragile economies could face a backlash by getting tough with Moscow.
Russia provides almost a third of the EU's gas needs and some 40 percent of the gas is shipped through Ukraine.
"Europeans are committed to do something," said Jeffrey Mankoff, a Russian analyst at the Center for Strategic International Studies. "I think it'll be difficult to convince them to go anywhere near where the United States would like to go."
Russia's abrupt annexation of the Crimea region of southern Ukraine has presented Obama with an urgent foreign policy challenge, one that figures to weigh heavily on a second term that he prefers to devote to domestic affairs.