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Message from Riyadh: On Trump's Saudi visit (.hindu )

Trump adopts the Saudi line on West Asia, reversing the Obama outreach to Tehran

During the American presidential campaign, Donald Trump was particularly critical of Saudi Arabia. He attacked its treatment of gays and women and slammed the Washington establishment for taking “their money”. He had also vowed to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and, upon becoming President, actually issued an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from coming to the country. (The order was later blocked by the courts.) But by choosing Saudi Arabia as his first overseas destination as President, Mr. Trump has signalled that his administration will retain the Washington establishment line towards West Asia. So while addressing leaders from over 50 Muslim countries in Riyadh on Sunday, he was extremely careful not to hurt the kingdom’s sensibilities. He called for unity in fighting terrorism and said “Islam is peace”. He noted Saudi Arabia’s attempts at “empowering women”, overlooked its disastrous military operation in Yemen and assailed Iran for fuelling “the fires of sectarian conflict and terror”. He also signed a $110 billion arms agreement with the Saudis. The message Mr. Trump is sending from his Saudi visit is clear: His administration will re-endorse Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, as a key pillar of America’s West Asia policy and ignore criticism of Riyadh’s human rights violations at home and interventions abroad. America will also supply its rich Arab allies advanced weapons: the defence industry at home will obviously benefit from such deals, creating more jobs.

Mr. Trump may be trying to kill too many birds with one stone. The Saudi-American partnership, that dates back to King Saud’s visit to Washington in 1957, has only grown in strength over the years. Barring occasional criticism, U.S. Presidents have largely overlooked allegations of rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and deepened ties in the energy and defence areas. But President Barack Obama, while steadily expanding the defence partnership between Washington and Riyadh, had tried to balance America’s interests between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Despite reservations from Saudi Arabia and Israel, his administration went ahead with the Iran nuclear deal. The logical next step of the nuclear deal should be bettering ties between Washington and Tehran. The major cause of instability in West Asia is not just Iran, as Mr. Trump mentioned in his speech, but the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. If Mr. Trump wants to be peacemaker and make West Asia a more secure place, he has to reach out to both sides and appeal to them to dial down the tensions that have already spilled into Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. Instead, he appears to have taken sides. The Saudi petro- dollar muscle is hard to resist for an American President desperate to create more jobs at home. But merely supplying weapons to Riyadh and its allies will not bring peace to West Asia, or help defeat terrorism.

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