January 26, 2015 / 9:39 AM / in 3 years

Obama, new Saudi king to discuss Yemen, Islamic State: White House

New Saudi King Salman attends a ceremony with world leaders offering their condolences following the death of the late Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, at the Diwan royal palace in Riyadh January 24, 2015. REUTERS/Yoan Valat/Pool

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and new Saudi Arabia King Salman are expected to discuss shared concerns about the turmoil in Yemen and the fight against Islamic State militants during their first formal meeting in Riyadh on Tuesday, the White House said.

Cutting short a visit to India, Obama is leading a U.S. delegation to the Saudi capital to offer condolences after the death of King Abdullah, Salman’s brother and a close ally of the United States.

“Principally, this is to mark this transition in leadership and to pay respects to the family and the people of Saudi Arabia,” Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said on Monday.

“But I‘m sure that while we’re there, they’ll touch on some of the leading issues where we cooperate very closely with Saudi Arabia,” Rhodes told reporters in New Delhi.

The tense regional security situation means Washington needs Saudi Arabia as much as ever, even though its domestic oil boom means it no longer relies as heavily on oil supplies from the world’s leading oil exporter.

Saudi Arabia has backed the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. The two countries are also concerned about Yemen, where the country’s U.S.-backed government collapsed last week.

“I think they’ll touch on those issues, and there will be a chance for us to make sure that we’re in good alignment going forward where we have overlapping interests,” Rhodes said.

“I think you saw the king send a signal that he’s committed to continuity in terms of Saudi Arabia’s approach to those issues,” he said.

The White House has “very good relations” with King Salman’s two designated heirs, Crown Prince Muqrin and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Rhodes said.

Obama has said the United States will continue to target militants involved with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. [ID:nL4N0V40B5]

Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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