Obama, Saudi prince focus on Iraq and Syria in Washington meeting

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Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed Bin Salman (L) arrives at the Oval Office of the White House for a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, U.S., June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Obama, Saudi prince discuss support for Iraqi fighters battling IS

By Timothy Gardner and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON, June 17 (Reuters) – President Barack Obama and the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia on Friday discussed ways to support Iraqis in their fight against Islamic State militants and the importance of a political transition in war-torn Syria, the White House said.

Obama met with Mohammed bin Salman, the son of King Salman, in the Oval office for about an hour. The deputy crown prince is visiting the United States to restore frayed relations and to promote a plan, known as Vision 2030, to slash the kingdom’s dependence on oil exports.

“The President expressed appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s contributions to the campaign against ISIL,” the White House said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

The two talked about steps to support Iraqis “including increased Gulf support to fund urgent humanitarian and stabilization needs,” the White House said.

U.S. officials have expressed unease about the Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which according to the United Nations and human rights groups has resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties.

Obama welcomed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to a political settlement of the conflict and support by the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which the kingdom is a member, to address humanitarian needs and rebuild Yemen, the White House said.

On Syria, Obama and the prince talked about the importance of supporting a political transition away from President Bashar al-Assad, the White House said. The United States is working with international partners on what it calls a Syrian-led transition process facilitated by the United Nations, but so far there has been little progress.

More than 50 diplomats at the U.S. State Department signed a memo, leaked on Thursday, that was critical of the Obama administration’s Syria policy and called for targeted military strikes against Assad’s government.

Asked about the memo, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who was also in Washington on Friday, told reporters the kingdom had been arguing for a “more robust intervention” including airstrikes, a no-fly zone, and a no-drive zone, from the beginning of the five-year civil war.

Jubeir said the deputy crown prince had briefed U.S. officials on his plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and to move to cleaner forms of energy.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner, Roberta Rampton aboard Air Force One; Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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