Riyadh: President Barack Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah on Wednesday on the eve of a much-anticipated speech in Cairo the US leader hopes will help repair America’s damaged image in the Islamic world.
After an airport welcome in Riyadh, Obama travelled to King Abdullah’s farm where the two men were to hold talks expected to cover the Arab-Isareli conflict, US overtures to Iran and oil.
Shortly after Obama arrived Al Jazeera television aired a recording by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in which he said the US president had planted seeds for “revenge and hatred” towards the United States in the Muslim world.
Bin Laden said Obama was continuing in the steps of his predecessor George W Bush and told Americans to be prepared for the consequences of the White House’s policies.
Obama, whose father was a Muslim and who lived in Indonesia as a boy, is trying to repair a US image badly damaged by Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the treatment of US military detainees.
He was due to spend the night at the Saudi king’s farm before heading on to Cairo for his speech to the Muslim world, which will fulfil a campaign promise last year to deliver an address from a Muslim capital early in his administration.
“I am confident that we’re in a moment where in Islamic countries, I think there’s a recognition that the path of extremism is not actually going to deliver a better life for people,” Obama told NBC News before he left Washington.
“I think there’s a recognition that simply being anti-American is not going to solve their problems. The steps we’re taking now to leave Iraq takes that issue and diffuses it a little bit,” he said.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said earlier the speech was “about resetting our relations with the Muslim world”.
Obama cautioned against expecting too much from the speech, which he said was just the first step in opening a broader dialogue with the Muslim world.
“After all, one speech is not going to transform very real policy differences and some very difficult issues surrounding the Middle East and the relationship between Islam and the west,” Obama said.
Washington hopes Saudi Arabia will play a moderating role in Opec against price hawks such as Iran after oil prices hit a seventh-month high, threatening prospects of global economic recovery.
Saudi Arabia and the United States have a near 60-year-old relationship based on guaranteeing oil supplies in return for US protection for the Saudi monarchy.
Obama has said he would discuss oil prices with King Abdullah and would argue that price spikes are not in Saudi interests.