President Trump prepares for visit by Saudi Prince
Washington - The two leaders are expected to deepen an already warm and congenial relationship.
Donald Trump will host Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince in Washington on Tuesday, giving the president a receptive audience to denounce rival Iran and a chance to take stock of significant changes the prince is engineering in the Kingdom.
Ten months after the last face-to-face meeting between Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh, the 71-year-old president and the 32-year-old strongman prince are expected to deepen an already warm and congenial relationship.
But they are also expected to take up major developments for Saudi Arabia, both internally and externally: the end of a ban on Saudi women driving, the unprecedented detention of dozens of people that was billed as a high-level anti-corruption purge, Saudi involvement in the war in Yemen, and the crisis with the Gulf state of Qatar.
"It's jaw-dropping how many policy changes the Saudis have pursued at home and in the region since that last meeting," said Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a former CIA analyst now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Many of these changes have touched US security interests."
One example is the summit that the administration had hoped to host this year with the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which could be difficult to arrange given the continuing crisis with Qatar.
In June, Saudi Arabia and the UAE began an air and sea boycott against Qatar, which they accuse of financing terrorism and being overly friendly with Iran.
Prince Mohammed was named crown prince that month by his father, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia.
Early on, the Prince announced an ambitious "Vision 2030" initiative to build an economy less dependent on oil, while luring more foreign investment.
Toward that end, Riyadh wants to greatly accelerate the pace of its civilian nuclear energy program. The goal: to build 16 reactors over the next 20 years, at a cost of some 80 billion euros ($98 billion), according to officials and analysts.
As the Saudis pursue the technology needed to undertake the ambitious project, they are expected to play potential rivals against one another, reminding their American counterparts that China, Russia and France are also capable of filling their needs.
In an interview with CBS broadcast on Sunday evening, the Prince defended at length his anti-corruption purge which saw many of the Kingdom's princes detained for several weeks inside Riyadh's luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel.
"What we did in Saudi Arabia was extremely necessary" and legal, he said. One goal of the operation, which was marked by physical abuse according to a New York Times investigation, was to recover an amount exceeding $100 billion.
"But the real objective was not this amount or any other amount," he said. "The idea is not to get money, but to punish the corrupt and send a clear signal that whoever engages in corrupt deals will face the law."
The United States and Saudi Arabia are historic allies. Ever since Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz bin Saud on a US naval ship in the Suez Canal in 1945, every American president has carefully nurtured relations with the Saudi royal family.
But the unstinting support Trump offered when he chose Riyadh as the destination of his first overseas trip as president brought the relationship to a new level.