The Cable

Saudi King Salman to Visit Washington Next Week

As Congress considers the Iran nuclear deal, Saudi King Salman is set to visit Washington next week.

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King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the head of the House of Saud, is heading to the United States next week in a strategically-timed visit just before a congressional showdown over the nuclear deal struck with Iran — Riyadh’s archrival.

His visit, beginning Sept. 4, signals King Salman may be willing to wade into the heated debate over the July agreement among world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing crippling international sanctions against Iran. In May, King Salman was a last-minute scratch at a Gulf Cooperation Council gathering in what was viewed his absence as a sign of dissatisfaction with the deal.

Now that the deal is in place, the visit gives President Barack Obama an opportunity to sell it to the leader of the oil-rich nation. After it was signed, the Saudi stance on it softened. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, after visiting the country in July, said King Salman supported it but had doubts about whether it would be enforced.  

The White House announced King Salman’s the visit Thursday afternoon. A source close to the Saudi Arabia embassy said the details of the trip have yet to be worked out, but the visit would last three days.

Obama’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, said Thursday the president and King Salman would discuss “steps to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” as well as “ways to further strengthen the bilateral relationship, including our joint security and counterterrorism efforts.”

King Salman is the latest world leader to visit Washington with major stakes on the outcome of nuclear deal. In March, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. Netanyahu used the forum to lobby against the agreement, drawing the ire of White House officials and Secretary of State John Kerry.

The visit also comes as the U.S. searches for a political solution to the four-year old Syrian civil war. Saudi Arabia has backed the mostly-Sunni forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is hanging on to his post with Iran’s help. The new U.S. special envoy for Syria, Michael Ratney, is traveling to Moscow, Riyadh, and Geneva this week in an attempt to make diplomatic headway.

“There is not going to be a military solution to this. It’s got to be done politically,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia is also part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State. In February, it hosted a meeting of military chiefs from the 26 countries that have pledged to fight the terror group. Earlier this month, the Islamic State claimed responsibility at a mosque in Saudi Arabia that left at least 15 dead.

Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/Getty Images

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