Exclusive: Saudi's deputy crown prince to visit U.S. for talks - sources

Fri Jun 3, 2016 5:37pm EDT
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By Warren Strobel and Yara Bayoumy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's powerful deputy crown prince is expected to visit Washington in mid-June for talks with top U.S. officials, possibly including President Barack Obama, amid growing friction between the longtime allies, three sources familiar with the matter said on Friday.

Mohammed bin Salman, son of Saudi Arabia's King Salman, has been leading a drive to end the kingdom's dependence on oil and liberalize its economy. He also serves as defense minister, and his discussions with U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and other top U.S. officials are expected to include the conflict in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition last year began a military campaign against Houthi rebels who receive some Iranian support.

The civil war in Syria also is expected to be on the agenda. Riyadh is seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has provided military support to rebels fighting him.

One of the sources said the deputy crown prince will be in Washington from June 14-16 and then will travel to New York for meetings with financial firms, and possibly to Los Angeles. This person spoke on condition of anonymity because the visit has not been formally announced.

A White House official said, "We don’t have any visit to announce at this time."

Prince Mohammed's talks in Washington will come at a sensitive time for U.S.-Saudi relations and energy markets.

U.S.-Saudi ties have cooled under Obama. Many Gulf Arab monarchies, including Saudi Arabia, have privately said they have been disappointed by what they consider the U.S. retreat from the region under Obama, allowing Iran to expand its influence, especially after a nuclear deal was reached last year.

Saudi Arabia's campaign in Yemen has also been a focus of concern. This week, the United Nations added the Saudi-led coalition to an annual blacklist of states and armed groups that violate children's rights during conflict.   Continued...

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 24, 2015.  REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo