(CNN) – President Barack Obama will travel to Saudi Arabia in March as concern over his administration’s recent interim deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons stirs concern among other Mideast nations.
While in the country he’ll meet with Saudi King Abdullah to discuss Middle East peace and common interests in the Arabian Gulf, the White House said Monday. Aside from the recent nuclear accord, struck last fall, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state neighbors have expressed frustration at the United States’ role in Syria, where rebels continue to battle against the Iran-backed regime.
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The trip will come following a previously scheduled visit to Europe that will include a meeting with Pope Francis. It will be Obama’s second visit to Saudi Arabia; he visited the Kingdom in 2009 as part of his first trip as president to the Middle East.
Last year Obama traveled to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan; next month he’ll meet with Jordan’s king at the Sunnylands retreat in California.
Saudi Arabia and the United States are longtime allies, having been bound by mutual military interests and Saudi Arabia’s oil supplies. The alliance has been shaken, however, by the U.S. deal with Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran.
The interim plan, which started taking effect in January, loosened some U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for a drawdown in nuclear enrichment. Saudi officials, speaking when the deal was struck, said they had been left out of the negotiating process.
Earlier in the fall, Saudi leaders expressed dismay when Obama didn’t order air strikes in Syria, which he initially advocated for but backed away from when it appeared Congress wasn’t on board.
“We believe that many of the West’s policies on both Iran and Syria risk the stability and security of the Middle East. This is a dangerous gamble, about which we cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by,” Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain, Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al Saud, wrote in The New York Times in December.
Speaking at the White House Monday, Press Secretary Jay Carney said Iran and Syria would be discussed during Obama’s meeting with King Abdullah in March.
“Whatever differences we may have do not alter the fact that this is a very important and close partnership,” Carney said.