RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) – A delegation of US senators led by John McCain have met separately with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman and Qatar’s emir, part of a Middle East tour focusing on training Syrian rebels.
A message on the official Twitter feed for McCain, R-Arizona, said that the US delegation met with the head of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed al-Jarba, and the commander of Saudi Arabia’s training and equipment program. A photo posted on the account showed the senators eating a feast with Saudi royals.
The US senators also met in neighbouring Qatar with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the country’s emir. The official Qatar News Agency said they discussed “Qatari-US relations and means to develop them”.
The delegation included Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, Angus King, I-Maine, and Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, the state news agency reported. All sit on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, which McCain chairs.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are staunch supporters of Syria’s opposition, which is mired in a nearly four-year civil war to oust President Bashar Assad’s government.
The meetings took place Saturday, a day after the Pentagon said that as many as 1,000 US troops and support personnel would be sent to sites in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to help train select Syrian rebels. Rear Adm John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the training by a mix of US special operations forces and conventional US troops could begin as early as spring.
Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, also is part of a US-led coalition conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State group, which has taken over parts of Syria and Iraq. Bahrain has taken part in the airstrikes as well, while Qatar has provided logistical support and Kuwait has provided a base for Canadian forces involved in the airstrikes.
Saudi Crown Prince Salman, who is also Saudi Arabia’s defence minister, has increasingly taken on a greater public role over the past year. King Abdullah, 90, was recently diagnosed with pneumonia.