The Trump Administration is planning a meeting this coming week with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, CBS News has learned. Salman is a powerful force within the royal family, second in line to the throne, and currently serves as defense minister. The White House has not yet announced the visit, as it is still confirming details.
The visit comes as the U.S. expands its military mission against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, a country on the brink of widespread famine and torn apart by civil war involving Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. The U.S. has been providing support and precision training to a Saudi-led military coalition fighting those rebels.
The Trump Administration has been considering its approach to the Yemeni war, and eyeing a tougher approach to roll back Iranian interference in the country. The US and Saudi Arabia suspect that Iran supplied the Houthis with the explosives used in the ramming-attack of a Saudi frigate in January. That attack coupled with ballistic missile testing prompted then-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn to issue an ominous statement from the White House podium warning Tehran that it was being put “on notice.”
President Trump has already supported the expansion of a separate military campaign in Yemen against the potent al Qaeda branch known as AQAP. Navy SEAL Ryan Owens was killed in a January firefight with AQAP while on an anti-terrorism mission in Yemen aimed at gathering information, cellphones, laptops and other items. Owens was the first known combat casualty under President Trump.
Earlier this week the State Department approved a $390 million sale of precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, an arms deal that had been halted by the Obama Administration due to concerns about civilian casualties. Secretary of State Tillerson has informed the Saudi government that he’ll approve the sale though it still requires White House backing to take effect.
The White House is still determining who will be meeting with Salman during his trip. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson leaves Tuesday for Asia to reassure allies about the growing North Korean threat. It is unclear if his schedule will allow him to join the meetings.
It will be a busy week on the foreign policy front for the Trump Administration. On the 14th, the President will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. Merkel runs the economic powerhouse of Europe and is key to keeping together the sanctions regime against Russia.
It is also certain to be a somewhat strained meeting.
As a candidate, Donald Trump publicly criticized Merkel’s open door policy to refugees and ranted about what he saw as her faulty leadership. He accused her of destroying Germany while also complaining that Time Magazine selected her as person of the year instead of him.
The President will also meet next week with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny for the annual St Patrick’s Day visit. Mr. Trump is also scheduled to hold his second campaign rally since his inauguration, this time in Nashville.