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Obama’s chilly reception in Saudi Arabia hints at mutual distrust

US president’s low-key arrival and meeting with King Salman underscores tension that has deepened over US policy towards Iran and the war in Syria


Barack Obama arrived to a noticeably low-key reception in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday against a background of mutual irritation in a relationship tested by a turbulent Middle East, plummeting oil prices and economic and political uncertainty.

The US president was greeted at the airport by the governor of Riyadh, Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud, and the event was not broadcast live on Saudi TV, as is routine with visiting heads of state – quickly generating talk of a snub.

Underlining the coolness, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, accompanied by other senior figures, was shown earlier on state television greeting the leaders of neighbouring states on the tarmac – ahead of Thursday’s summit of the six-member, Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation council, which Obama is to address.

Shortly afterwards King Salman greeted Obama in the opulent surroundings of the capital’s al-Auja palace, where they posed for a photo opportunity and exchanged stilted formal remarks before a two hour meeting .

“The American people send their greetings and we are very grateful for your hospitality, not just for this meeting but for hosting the GCC-US summit that’s taking place tomorrow, Obama said. Salman responded: “I and the Saudi people are very pleased that you, Mr President, are visiting us.”

Official pictures also showed Obama shaking hands with the king’s son and deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the embodiment of newly assertive Saudi policies in Yemen and the architect of far-reaching economic reforms necessitated by diminishing oil revenues.

Looking on was the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the favourite of western governments who see him as an invaluable partner in counter-terrorism and intelligence, key strands in the kingdom’s relationship with its western allies.

Heavy security measures were in force in Riyadh with helicopters circling overhead and police vehicles stationed at intersections leading to the Ritz Carlton hotel, where the president’s delegation is staying. Restaurants and shops on roads where the motorcades


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