Middle East News
US defence secretary in Saudi Arabia for talks on uprisings
Apr 6, 2011, 11:55 GMT
Riyadh - US Defence Secretary Robert Gates met with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz on Wednesday during a one-day visit to discuss the uprisings in the Middle East.
Gates met with Defence Minister Khalid Bin Sultan to talk about unrest in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. Saudi Arabia in recent weeks has seen its own small but significant protests calling for greater freedom and equality for the Shiite Muslim minority.
Gates was met on arrival by Assistant Defence Minister Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz and the commander of the Royal Saudi Air Force, Lieutenant-General Mohammed bin Abdullah Ayesh.
Washington and Riyadh share concerns about growing Iranian influence in the Gulf region.
Gates flew late Wednesday to Iraq for an unannounced meeting with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and a visit to US troops. It could be his last visit to Iraq, as Gates has said he intends to leave his post this year.
Gates planned to discuss the US long-term commitment to Iraq's security and development, as the US intends to withdraw the remainder of its forces by the end of this year, according to Pentagon news services. There are just under 50,000 US soldiers still in Iraq.
The United States late last year announced an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth up to 60 billion dollars, making it the largest military sale in US history. One of the sale's major aims is to offset Iran's growing military capabilities, according to the US State Department.
Both the United States and Saudi Arabia have long supported Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but in recent days have shifted from publicly supporting his bid to stay in power.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a grouping of oil-rich Gulf countries, proposed that Saleh and members of the opposition meet in Riyadh to discuss the unrest that has left around 100 people dead since the beginning of the year.
A shared concern among the United States, Saudi Arabia and its neighbour Yemen, which has unsuccessfully been lobbying to join the Saudi-based GCC, is the ongoing battle against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Additionally, the GCC, which has taken on a political role within the region concentrating on security-related issues, recently sent troops to member-state Bahrain at the request of the government there to help quell a mostly Shiite uprising against the minority Sunni ruling family.
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