CATF Reports Jan. 31, 2017, 11:03am

Only days into his Presidential term, Donald Trump has officially entered the menacing world of Middle East politics and offered a glimpse into the future of the U.S. role in the region under his leadership. On Sunday, President Trump spoke by phone with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed in what may signal a rekindling of relations following accusations from the Arab Gulf states that the Obama administration’s inaction emboldened Tehran. Steering clear of discussions on the contentious travel ban, the conversations focused on counter-terrorism, restraining Iranian influence, and establishing regional safe zones.    

President Trump’s policy plans for the Middle East, which apart from escalating the fight against ISIS largely remained a secret during the course of the campaign, will steadily be revealed over the coming months. Following the weekend conversations and the President’s backing of “the importance of rigorously enforcing” the Iran deal, early signs point to a keenness to strengthen ties with the energy-rich Arab states of the Gulf. However, the Gulf States, many of which failed to denounce Trump’s controversial travel ban, appear wary of the future of their relations with the Trump administration.

Trump’s support for “rigorously enforcing” the Iran deal announced on Sunday in a phone conversation with King Salman followed campaign indications that Trump would destroy what he labeled as the “worst deal ever negotiated.” Tehran, which has slowly and quietly violated aspects of the nuclear framework, may test the rigor of Trump’s enforcement over the next four years. But Riyadh and the Gulf States’ likely uncertainty of the earnestness of Trump’s pledge of rigorous enforcement, given his willingness to shy away from a pledge to abolish the deal, is not the only reason for their careful approach to Washington’s new leaders. President Trump’s eagerness to cooperate with the Kremlin in Syria, advance U.S. energy independence, and his suspicion of security partnerships may be forcing the leaders in the Gulf to think carefully about the future of U.S.-Gulf relations under the Trump administration.          

From Bloomberg:

“Trump spoke by phone on Sunday with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, whose country is home to Islam’s holiest shrines, as well as Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed. The call with the Saudi monarch lasted more than an hour, according to a senior Saudi person who spoke on condition of anonymity. In addition to fighting terrorism, they agreed to tackle Iran’s “destabilizing regional activities,” the White House said.

The remarks shed more light on Trump’s Middle East policy by signaling he wants to improve ties with the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab monarchies that felt shunned by the U.S. under the Obama administration, which focused on clinching a nuclear deal with Iran. The new U.S. president, however, stopped short of repeating his earlier vows to repeal the accord, saying he agreed with the Saudi king on “the importance of rigorously enforcing” it, according to the Trump administration."

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