Saudi crown prince soaks in Trump's praise

President Donald Trump says Saudi Arabia has been a great friend to the United States and is a "great purchaser" and "investor" in its economy.

Sitting side by side in the Oval Office, Trump said, "We've become very good friends over a very short period of time", and produced charts to show the depth of Saudi purchases of USA military hardware and what he said were the number of American jobs they are providing.

During an interview with 60 Minutes, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused Iran of hosting and supporting al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden's son, who is the new leader of the terrorist outfit.

Trump sounded an ominous note as he looked ahead to a decision in May about whether to stay in the Iran nuclear deal, loathed by both Trump and the Saudis. "There's nobody even close", Trump told reporter in a brief Oval Office appearance with the 32-year-old Crown Prince.

Trump gave a warm welcome at White House to the powerful Crown Prince and credited USA defence sales to the Saudis boosting American jobs.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a sponsor of the resolution, said the United States, a major provider of weapons to Saudi Arabia and intelligence and logistical support to the Saudis in Yemen, should not be involved in the three-year-old war that has unleashed the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

It's a message that has earned MBS admirers in the United States, as he allowed women to drive and opened movie theaters shuttered since the 1980s. The Saudis and their allies are fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels, but worldwide organisations have harshly criticized the coalition's airstrikes and blockading of Yemeni ports for contributing to thousands of civilian deaths and a humanitarian catastrophe.

Also high on the agenda in the White House talks was confronting Iran, a country Trump has repeatedly criticized for its expansionist policies in the Middle East. Still, Trump's administration doesn't want Congress to cut assistance for Saudi-led operations there, warning that without US help, civilian deaths would only increase.

Yet, Democrats and Republicans have approached some of the crown prince's other bold steps with trepidation, particularly as they pertain to his anti-Iran efforts. They've cast themselves as essential partners against extremist groups and, especially since Trump's maiden overseas voyage previous year, touted their lavish purchases of high-tech goods from job-creating American companies.

A key focus of his visit will be any information on a potentially lucrative listing of up to 5 percent of Saudi oil firm Aramco. "There's nobody that even comes close to us in terms of technology and the quality of the equipment, and Saudi Arabia appreciates that".

But as the talks took place, U.S. senators were debating a resolution seeking an end to American support for Saudi Arabia's role in Yemen's civil war.

  • Gwendolyn Kim