In a telephone call Sunday with President Donald J. Trump, Saudi King Salman agreed to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen, the White House said. President Trump proposed during the 2016 election to back safe zones to protect refugees resulting from the Syrian civil war sparked by the West attempting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
A statement after the phone call said the two leaders agreed on the importance of strengthening joint efforts to fight the spread of Islamic State militants.
“The president requested, and the King agreed, to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen, as well as supporting other ideas to help the many refugees who are displaced by the ongoing conflicts,” the statement said.
The Saudi Press Agency said the two leaders had affirmed the “depth and durability of the strategic relationship” between the two countries, though in an initial readout of the call made no specific mention of safe zones. However, the agency later said “the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques had confirmed his support and backing for setting up safe zones in Syria.”
The omission of Yemen is understandable, as the Saudis are leading a coalition is fighting against the Iran-aligned Houthi group. Further, Reuters reported a source said Saudi Arabia would increase its role in the U.S.-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS). Under the Obama administration, the effort aimed to “degrade.” Now, President Trump signed an executive order giving the Department Department 30 days to come up with a new plan to destroy the group.
In the Trump Administration, the Saudi kinds sees a friend and ally against Iran and it’s other Gulf enemies after a strained relationship with former President Obama, who was much more friendly with Tehran.
The two sides also confirmed the allied leaders agreed to confront “Iran’s destabilizing regional activities.” The White House characterized the call from the king for Trump “to lead a Middle East effort to defeat terrorism and to help build a new future, economically and socially,” for Saudi Arabia and the region.
According to Reuters, Mr. Trump and King Salman also spoke about the Muslim Brotherhood and “it was mentioned that Osama bin Laden was recruited at an early stage” by the Islamist supremacist organization. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, though it has ties to organizations that operate in the U.S., including the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Riyadh understands the Brotherhood has tried to undermine the kingdom since the so-called Arab Spring. President Trump also spoke with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan about the Brotherhood. The Crown Prince was cited by UAE state news agency WAM as saying “groups that raise fake slogans and ideologies aim to hide their criminal truth by spreading chaos and destruction.”
Officials in the Trump transition team had said a debate is under way in the Trump administration over whether to declare the Brotherhood a terrorist organization and subject it to U.S. sanctions.