Riyadh (AFP) – US President Barack Obama flew in to Saudi Arabia Tuesday, leading a heavyweight delegation to offer condolences on King Abdullah’s death and shore up ties that have suffered in recent years.
The United States established full diplomatic relations with the country in 1940 and the unlikely allies remain bound by shared interests in regional stability and oil.
Air Force One touched down at King Khalid International Airport in the capital Riyadh, arriving from India where Obama cut short a state visit to travel to Saudi.
Saudi television showed new King Salman welcoming Obama and his wife Michelle at the bottom of a red-carpeted ramp before a military band played the US and Saudi national anthems.
Salman’s heir Crown Prince Moqren and Mohammed bin Nayef, the powerful interior minister who is second in line to the throne, were among those who greeted the American delegation.
Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi was also among the delegation.
The US president then boarded a black limousine taking him to talks with Salman at a palace in the city centre.
The four-hour stopover was also to include a dinner before the US delegation continues on to Germany.
Salman, 79, acceded to the throne after Abdullah died on Friday aged about 90.
Authorities deployed armoured vehicles, police cars and radar all along the route into the city from the airport to secure Obama’s visit, an AFP reporter observed.
A row of stars and stripes flags flew beside Saudi Arabia’s green standards.
Despite the longstanding partnership, analysts say Riyadh has grown dissatisfied with what it sees as a lack of US engagement with regional crises as Washington looks to Asia.
Anwar Eshki, chairman of the Jeddah-based Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies, said “divergences persist”.
The differences include the battle against the Islamic State group extremists in Iraq and Syria, the nearly four-year-old rebellion against the Damascus regime and the post-Arab Spring chaos in Libya and Yemen.