POLITICS: PennAve

White House aides host Saudi interior minister

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Politics,White House,Susan Rice,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Yemen,Middle East,Saudi Arabia

Senior White House aides spent Wednesday doing some fence-mending with a top Saudi official ahead of President Obama's trip to Riyadh planned for late March.

National security advisers Susan Rice and Lisa Monaco hosted Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Saudi Arabia's interior minister, for meetings at the White House, according to a read-out of the meeting by National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

Obama in late March will travel to Saudi Arabia, a longtime American ally whose relationship with Washington has frayed in recent months over rising concerns in Riyadh about U.S. policy toward Iran and Syria.

During Wednesday's meeting between Rice, Monaco and the Saudi interior minister, the trio discussed “issues of importance in the strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, including our robust security cooperation and efforts to address violent extremism and to counter terrorism across the Middle East,” Hayden said in a statement.

“They also exchanged views on regional issues and committed to continuing to strengthen our cooperation on a range of common interests.”

Last fall, Saudi Arabia declined a coveted seat on the United Nations Security Council, a move that signaled the depth of Saudi anger over the U.S. decision not to send more arms to the Syrian opposition, and more recently, the interim deal with Iran to roll back parts of its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Earlier this week, Yemen transferred to Saudi Arabia 29 al Qaeda prisoners who were wanted by the Saudi authorities, according to a report in Reuters.

Yemen has become a hotbed for particularly virulent wing of the terror group known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that has tried to launch attacks on western targets, including an unsuccessful attempt to blow up an airliner on its way to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

The Saudi government is deeply concerned that instability in Yemen could spill over into its borders. They are particularly sensitive to the al Qaeda threat after quashing a violent uprising nearly a decade ago aimed at ousting the al-Saud monarchy.

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