As part of a review of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., Senator John McCain journeyed to Saudi Arabia. He was received by King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud at the al-Yamamah Palace on February 21. Other Saudi officials at the meeting included Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif and Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir.
McCain chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he arrived after talks on Syria with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The visit comes two days before the U.N. brokered peace talks in Geneva, which include Syria’s current Assad-led government and the Syrian opposition.
Several countries within the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, have been working with Western powers to broker a peace in Syria. These countries have also provided military and financial aid to the opposition. All these countries are also members of the U.S. coalition battling the Islamic State jihadists in Syria. Iran and Russia will also be part of the talks, as they have supported Assad’s government.
The SPA report of the visit said that Saudi officials and McCain discussed “a number of issues of common concern including enhancing cooperation between the Kingdom and the U.S. in various fields.”
Al-Jubeir has recently expressed optimism regarding the new Trump administration’s engagement within the region, particularly in regards to containing Iran and its influence in the region. Currently, Iran is active in several Middle Eastern hot spots, including Syria and Yemen. Iran has been classified as a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S.
The Trump administration has already issued new sanctions against individuals and agencies within Iran. They are also considered giving the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization listing, although there are some that argue the IRGC is an agency of the Iranian state and is therefore covered under the state sponsor of terrorism listing that Iran already had.
McCain has been called the “critic in chief” of the Trump presidency, partly for his defense of traditional Republican foreign policy positions, many of which clash with the president. He also takes a hard line against Russia. Trump, on the other hand, has faced allegations of improper Russian influence on his administration, although he denies this. Trump has repeatedly mentioned that he would like to foster a better relationship with Russia, although he has not defined what that might look like.