By Josh Rogin, Washington Post:
When President Trump arrives in Riyadh this week, he will lay out his vision for a new regional security architecture White House officials call an “Arab NATO,” to guide the fight against terrorism and push back against Iran. As a cornerstone of the plan, Trump will also announce one of the largest arms-sales deals in history.
Behind the scenes, the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia have been conducting extensive negotiations, led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The discussions began shortly after the presidential election, when Mohammed, known in Washington as “MBS,” sent a delegation to meet with Kushner and other Trump officials at Trump Tower.
After years of disillusionment with the Obama administration, the Saudi leadership was eager to do business. “They were willing to make a bet on Trump and on America,” a senior White House official said.
In that meeting and during a follow-up meeting three weeks later, the Saudis proposed a broad elevation of the U.S.-Saudi relationship and proposed various projects to increase security cooperation, economic cooperation and investment, White House officials said. The Trump team gave the Saudis a list of Trump priorities, calling on the kingdom to step up actions to combat radical Islamic extremism, intensify the fight against the Islamic State and share the burden of regional security.
In recent weeks, the Trump administration has tasked various government agencies to develop a series of announcements Trump will make this weekend. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now heavily involved. One main objective is to put forth a framework and basic principles for a unified Sunni coalition of countries, which would set the stage for a more formal NATO-like organizational structure down the line.
“We all have the same enemy and we all want the same thing,” the official said. “What this trip hopefully will do is just change the environment.”
The idea of an “Arab NATO” has been bandied about for years — and has always had strong Saudi support — but until now was never openly endorsed by the U.S. government. Officials said the concept fits three major tenets of Trump’s “America First” foreign-policy frame: asserting more American leadership in the region, shifting the financial burden of security to allies and providing for U.S. jobs at home (through the massive arms sales).
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