Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has offered praise for President Donald Trump after a private meeting between the two.
In a statement, Salman defended Trump's executive order imposing a travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries and characterized their meeting as a positive reinforcement of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, ABC News reports.
On Mar. 14, Salman visited the White House for a lunch with Trump. As the son of King Salman of Saudi Arabia, the 31-year-old deputy crown prince is the second in line to the country's throne and is the highest-ranking Saudi official to meet with the U.S. president since the 2016 presidential election.
Following the meeting, Salman released a statement expressing optimism that the U.S.-Saudi relationship will improve under the Trump administration. He described his discussion with Trump as a "historic turning point in bilateral relations," according to The Daily Caller.
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Salman also defended Trump's executive order on travel, which has been a source of controversy in the U.S.
"Saudi Arabia does not believe that this measure is targeting Muslim countries or the religion of Islam," Salman said. "This measure is a sovereign decision aimed at preventing terrorists from entering the United States of America."
The deputy crown prince added that Saudi Arabia will "protect the United States of America from expected terrorist operations."
On Mar. 6, Trump signed an executive order that revised his initial travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries after the first directive met several setbacks in U.S. courts. The new executive action exempts Iraq from the travel ban and no longer places an indefinite hold on U.S. admittance of Syrian refugees, although it does maintain a temporary freeze on U.S. refugee resettlement, according to The Huffington Post.
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Since Sept. 11, 2001, no citizen of the countries listed on the travel ban -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- has killed an American in an act of terrorism, according to PolitiFact.
In addition to praising Trump for his executive order, Salman added that he and the president had discussed strengthening U.S.-Saudi investment ties, containing Iran's military capability and curbing terrorist recruitment.
The U.S. is aiding Saudi-backed Sunni forces in Yemen as they fight the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is currently a part of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria, according to ABC News.
The call for warmer relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia follows a period of tension between the two countries under the Obama administration. Former President Barack Obama had been highly skeptical of the Gulf nation for its exporting of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist strain of Islam, to other countries and for its treatment of women, according to an April 2016 profile of the former commander-in-chief published by The Atlantic.
Obama had also been critical of Saudi Arabia's complete opposition to Iran. In the profile, Obama stated that the competition "between the Saudis and the Iranians -- which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen -- requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace."
Senior fellow Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution believes the Trump administration's more aggressive stance towards Iran and its desire to improve relations with Saudi Arabia by any means necessary has Saudi officials optimistic.
"They were happy to see Obama go," Riedel told The New York Times. "Trump has made it clear he is not worried about supporting human rights or freedom... that all those difficult questions about gender equality and the like are going to be off the table for the next four years, and that Iran is very much on the table. "As the Saudis look at Trump, they see they don’t need to worry about any of that."