Obama to visit Saudi Arabia in March: White House

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Barack Obama will travel to ally Saudi Arabia in March, following clear signs of disquiet in Riyadh about his Middle Eastern policies and nuclear talks with Iran.

Obama will fly to meet King Abdullah on a trip added onto existing visits to the Netherlands, Brussels and Vatican City, the White House said in a statement on Monday.

The White House said that Obama planned to talk to the king about the strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and "Gulf and regional security, peace in the Middle East, countering violent extremism and other issues of prosperity and security."

Prominent members of the Saudi national security establishment have made no secret about their skepticism towards Obama's policies in the Middle East, especially since the emergence of Arab Spring revolutions in early 2011.

Saudi Arabia expressed anger to its long-time US partner after Obama stepped back from the brink of launching military strikes on Syria last year to punish the use of chemical weapons.

It has also expressed dissatisfaction that Washington has not done more to match its own efforts to support and arm rebel groups battling Iranian-backed President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

And Saudi Arabia also reacted with caution to news of an interim nuclear deal between world powers, including the United States, and Iran reached in December.

Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, wrote in a commentary in The New York Times in December that the West's policies on Iran and Syria are a "dangerous gamble."

The ambassador warned that Saudi Arabia would act in the region to secure its interests with or without its Western partners.

Obama last visited Saudi Arabia in the first year of his presidency, in 2009, and welcomed the king to the White House a year later.

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