Saudi Offer of Troops to Fight ISIS, Rebuffed by Obama, 'Remains on Table'

WASHINGTON — A spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince said after their meeting with President Trump on Tuesday that an offer of Saudi ground forces to fight ISIS made to the previous administration still stands.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who also serves as the kingdom’s defense minister, met with Trump in the Oval Office and for lunch in the State Dining Room. The press pool was briefly allowed to photograph each meeting, but the two leaders made no statements.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, adviser to the crown prince, told Fox News on Tuesday that the two “got along very well on a personal level and discussed many important issues.”

“I think Prince Mohammad was keen to make sure that, you know, we can move into the 21st century together in a very positive and mutually beneficial way,” he added.

In response to candidate Trump’s statement that the Gulf States “have nothing but money; we don’t have money” and he would make them build safe zones in Syria, Prince Faisal said Saudi Arabia “has always been keen to play its role in the region and in partnership with the U.S.”

“So I think we are more than ready to cooperate with the United States on countering ISIS in Syria, in Iraq across the region not just financially but the Saudi government offered in the Obama administration’s time to send its troops into Syria to fight ISIS. That was not met with enthusiasm by the Obama administration,” he noted.

“I think that offer remains on the table. And I’m sure we’re more than — the Saudi government is more than ready to support the U.S. in eradicating ISIS but, as I said, not just financially but actually with its own troops and with its own people.”

The prince said he didn’t know if Trump brought up the safe zones demand with the crown prince.

“We have to make sure that the people in Syria and the people in Iraq that are liberated from ISIS can live peacefully, can live in harmony,” he added. “That I think involves, in Syria specifically, protecting them from the Syrian regime and from its Iranian allies.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted before the meeting that Trump should raise the issue of human rights with Prince Mohammed, including demanding the release of blogger Raif Badawi, but it’s unknown if this was discussed.

“I think we have always had an open dialogue with the United States about the issue of human rights. I think we have always acknowledged that, at least to Western eyes, there are some deficiencies in the Saudi system,” Prince Faisal said. “We disagree on some of the assessments that the U.S. has on that but I think we will continue to have that dialogue openly and frankly and work together to make sure that, you know, human rights universally, globally are respected.”

“I mean, the government in Saudi Arabia is very focused on empowering its people to be successful, to be able to have a good life, good lifestyle. And I think as long as we have an improvement in the level of education, opportunities for young folks, of course for women as well and all that, I think that will really marginalize the voices of extremism,” he added. “And I think if we can set a very good role model for the region, hopefully others in the region can follow us.”

Prince Faisal said the kingdom takes Trump at his word when he says the travel ban limiting entrance from six Muslim-majority countries is not a Muslim ban. Saudi Arabia is not on the list.

“My understanding is Prince Mohammed did discus the matter with the president today. And President Trump reemphasized the fact that it was not directed at Muslims as a religion but at countries in which the vetting procedure is just not there to allow for safely understanding who is coming to the U.S. and things like that,” he said.

“And look, Saudi Arabia has very stringent standards as to who it allows into its country. So we — I think we understand completely where the president is coming from in that regard. And as long as he assures us and assures the world that it’s not something directed at any one religion, I think it is fair enough for the U.S. to make sure that its security is protected.”

The White House issued a readout of the meeting this morning, saying the two discussed investment opportunities and “the importance of confronting Iran’s destabilizing regional activities while continuing to evaluate and strictly enforce the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”

“The president expressed his strong desire to achieve a comprehensive, just, and lasting settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to continue the two countries’ consultations to help reach solutions for regional issues,” the White House added. “…The two countries highlighted that expanded economic cooperation could create as many as one million direct American jobs within the next four years, millions of indirect American jobs, as well as jobs in Saudi Arabia.”

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