Pentagon to host Saudi deputy minister for talks

AFP , Thursday 20 Mar 2014

The Pentagon was due to host Saudi Arabia's deputy defense minister for talks Thursday as the two sides try to smooth over differences on US policy towards Iran and Syria.

Prince Salman bin Sultan was scheduled to meet Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel as well as Deputy Secretary of State William Burns during a visit to Washington that comes days before President Barack Obama's planned trip to Saudi Arabia, officials said.

Prince Salman and his US counterparts were expected to discuss Washington's diplomacy with Iran, the raging civil war in Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The Obama administration's pursuit of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and its reluctance to intervene in the Syrian conflict have frustrated the Saudi leadership and caused serious tensions in the decades-long strategic alliance.

The Saudis are skeptical of the interim nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by major powers, viewing it as a risky venture that could embolden their Shiite-led rivals in Tehran.

And the Saudis were bitterly disappointed over Obama's eleventh hour decision last year to back away from military action against the Syrian regime.

As in previous meetings between US-Saudi defense officials, the two sides were also expected to discuss arms sales, as Riyadh is one of America's biggest customers for its warplanes and weapons.

The US government has approved more than $86 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia since 2010, including a fleet of upgraded F-15 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters, an array of missiles, Patriot batteries and other hardware.

It is Prince Salman's first official visit to Washington as deputy defense minister since he assumed office in August.

Son of late crown prince and veteran defense minister Sultan bin Abdul Aziz who died in 2011, he previously served in the Saudi embassy in the US capital.

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