U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
By Stephen J. Adler, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump complained on Thursday that U.S. ally Saudi Arabia was not treating the United States fairly and Washington was losing a “tremendous amount of money” defending the kingdom.
In an interview with Reuters, Trump confirmed his administration was in talks about possible visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel in the second half of May. He is due to make his first trip abroad as president for a May 25 NATO summit in Brussels and could add other stops.
“Frankly, Saudi Arabia has not treated us fairly, because we are losing a tremendous amount of money in defending Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Trump’s criticism of Riyadh, the world’s top oil exporter, was a return to his 2016 election campaign rhetoric when he accused the kingdom of not pulling its weight in paying for the U.S. security umbrella.
“Nobody’s going to mess with Saudi Arabia because we’re watching them,” Trump told a campaign rally in Wisconsin a year ago. “They’re not paying us a fair price. We’re losing our shirt.”
Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Trump last month in a meeting that was hailed by a senior Saudi adviser as a “historical turning point” in relations. The talks appeared to signal a meeting of the minds on many issues, including their shared view that Iran posed a regional security threat.
Riyadh and other Gulf allies see in Trump a strong president who will shore up Washington’s role as their main strategic partner and help contain Riyadh’s adversary Iran in a region central to U.S. security and energy interests, regional analysts said.
Asked about the fight against Islamic State, which Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies are confronting as a coalition, Trump said the militant group had to be defeated.
“I have to say, there is an end. And it has to be humiliation,” Trump said, when asked about what the endgame was for defeating Islamist violent extremism.
“There is an end. Otherwise it’s really tough. But there is an end,” without detailing a strategy.
A visit to Israel would reciprocate a White House visit in February by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to meet Trump next Wednesday in Washington.
Trump has set a more positive tone with Israel than his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, who often clashed with the right-wing Israeli leader, and has raised concerns among Palestinians that their leaders may not get equal treatment.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Howard Goller)