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In visit to Saudi Arabia, Obama seeks to heal U.S. rift with key partner

March 28, 2014 at 6:14 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama has wrapped up his weeklong trip overseas with stop in Saudi Arabia, in an effort to heal a growing rift with a key partner in the Middle East.

Jeffrey Brown has that.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president arrived in Saudi Arabia at a tense time in U.S. relations with the desert kingdom. He met with King Abdullah for two hours at a royal farm outside Riyadh. The elderly monarch wore what appeared to be an oxygen tube.

He was joined by Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who’s just been named second in line to the throne. There were no public statements, but aides said Mr. Obama hoped to reassure Abdullah on key concerns.

On Syria, for example, the Saudis want the U.S. to provide more military aid to Sunni rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. He’s backed by Shiite Iran.

In Washington today, the State Department’s Marie Harf sought to play down divisions over Syria.

MARIE HARF, State Department Spokeswoman: We have always had same goals with Saudis, right? We have had some tactical differences. We have had conversations and worked through them and today feel like we are in a stronger place, with our two countries closely coordinating even more what kinds of assistance we’re providing, how we can increase that assistance, what makes the most sense, and how we can change the balance of power there.

JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, reports today indicated the president may reverse his opposition to supplying the Syrian rebels with surface-to-air missiles.

But Riyadh also harbors deep doubts about U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran. And the Saudis took a dim view of U.S. support for Arab spring uprisings in Egypt and other Arab states.

All of this led senior Saudi officials last year to warn of a — quote — “major shift” away from their longtime reliance on the U.S. The kingdom even turned down a seat on the U.N. Security Council, accusing that body of failing to take firm action on Syria and other issues.