President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with Saudi Arabia’s new king on Tuesday, underscoring the oil-rich Middle Eastern country’s importance to the United States’ anti-terrorism efforts and energy markets.
Obama’s meeting with King Salman comes just days after the death of King Abdullah, who was buried Friday. The White House said the main reason for Obama’s trip is to pay his respects to the Islamic country that has been a key ally.
“I’m sure that while we’re there they’ll touch on some of the leading issues where we cooperate very closely with Saudi Arabia,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Monday.
On the list of issues that could come up: The campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the deteriorating government of Yemen, where rebels thought to be supported by Iran have overthrown the President.
Saudi Arabia is also the world’s second-leading producer of crude oil, and plays a key role in setting global oil prices.
“I think they’ll touch on those issues and it will be a chance for us to make sure that we’re in good alignment going forward where we have overlapping interests,” Rhodes said.
Leaders from Britain, France, Japan and Russia also made trips to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, to meet with Salman in recent days.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Monday that Obama’s schedule in Riyadh is still being worked out.
Obama is also facing pressure to raise human rights issues with the country’s monarch. Saudi Arabia imposes strict restrictions on women, requiring them to have male guardians and forbidding them from driving.
The country has also made headlines recently for its media restrictions. Blogger Raif Badawi recently faced a sentence of 1,000 public lashings and 10 years in prison for insulting the country’s clerics.
“Human rights is a topic that we raise regularly with Saudi Arabia, so generally that is something that is on our bilateral agenda,” Rhodes said.
“Without knowing exactly what the extent of the meetings and consultations will be and what the precise agenda will be, I can’t speak to individual cases,” he said. “But I think it will certainly be the case that human rights will be on the agenda with Saudi Arabia going forward, and we raise these types of individual case with Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.”