In late April, the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, appointed one of his sons, Prince Khalid bin Salman, as the kingdom’s new ambassador to the United States. The appointment was part of larger reshuffling at the top of the Saudi government. Khalid’s ascent was a sign of the growing power of his older brother, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi minister of defense.
Khalid’s appointment is also largely seen as an attempt by King Salman to boost ties between the Saudi royal family and U.S. President Donald Trump, who himself has delegated significant foreign policy responsibilities to his son-in-law Jared Kushner. After years of strained relations with former President Barack Obama, the Saudis appear to be optimistic about the new president. Trump has a well-established record of hostility toward the kingdom’s main rival, Iran, and in particular toward the Obama administration’s Iran deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), which Saudi Arabia only reluctantly came to terms with.
The optimism is evident in the Saudi state media’s coverage: a March meeting between Trump and the deputy crown prince was hailed as “a historic turning point” in the U.S.–Saudi alliance, and after the first phone call between Trump and the king, in January, the Saudi news agency proclaimed that “the leaders see eye to eye on issues on the agenda.” In a second conversation, in April, King Salman praised Trump for his “brave” decision in April to launch missiles against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
Such positive rhetoric, coupled with Khalid’s appointment, may have already paid off: Trump recently announced that his first overseas trip as president will be to Saudi Arabia, and then to Israel and the Vatican, in what appears to be a symbolic effort to strengthen ties between the world’s three monotheistic religions.
Yet despite Saudi optimism, U.S. policy toward the Middle East remains adrift. No coherent national security