February 1, 2014 - 11:03 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - President Barack Obama is preparing to visit Saudi Arabia in March for a summit with King Abdullah in a bid to smooth relations with the U.S.'s most important Arab ally, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing Arab officials who were briefed on the trip's preparations.
The officials aware the coming summit, which was pulled together quickly in recent days, said it would be crucial to aligning American and Saudi policies as political change and sectarian strife continue to sweep the Mideast and North Africa.
"This is about a deteriorating relationship" and declining trust, said a senior Arab official in describing the need for the summit.
Arab diplomats said Friday, Jan 31, that trust needs to be rebuilt between Washington and Riyadh, and the March summit will be a key test, according to the Journal.
Saudi officials have publicly said the kingdom may adopt a more independent foreign policy if the U.S. and other Western countries aren't seen as defending Saudi Arabia's interests.
In recent months, Riyadh has significantly increased financial support and arms shipments to the Free Syrian Army, according to Arab and American officials. In late December, Saudi Arabia also announced it was providing $3 billion to Lebanon's armed forces, which is seeking to stop the spread of Syria's civil war and contain the power of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, a close ally of Iran's.
Obama's stop in Saudi Arabia will be added to a March trip to Europe already announced by the White House. He previously met King Abdullah in Riyadh in 2009 and in Washington in 2010.