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Esper Welcomes Saudi Vice Defense Minister to Pentagon for Talks

Aug. 29, 2019 | BY Jim Garamone
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Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper welcomed Saudi Arabia's vice defense minister, Prince Khalid bin Salman, to the Pentagon.

Before today's meeting, Esper called the U.S.-Saudi Arabian relationship "one of the most enduring" in the Middle East. The secretary promised to make the relationship grow even more.

The prince told Esper he was happy to be in the Pentagon "to cement our relationship."

Video by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Hurt

The Saudi-U.S. partnership grew out of a wartime meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman al Saud in February 1945. Roosevelt was returning from the Yalta Conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin. The meeting of the American president with the founder of the modern Saudi nation marked the beginning of the relationship between the nations.

The oil-rich kingdom has supported U.S. policies in the region, serving as a counterpoint to Iran. Esper and the prince reaffirmed the strategic security partnership between the nations. The secretary thanked the prince for his efforts to de-escalate tensions in the region. 

The leaders discussed regional security concerns, including the war in Yemen, and long-standing U.S.-Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism and countering Iran's destabilizing activities in the Middle East, said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman. 

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper sits at a table with a group of people.
Leaders Meeting
Video by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Hurt
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. B. Nicole Mejia, DOD
VIRIN: 190829-D-AP390-1130

Esper also thanked the Saudi vice defense minister for hosting U.S. service members at Prince Sultan Air Base. Those troops allow American forces to protect "our shared interests throughout the region," he said. The forces also help mitigate threats against U.S. forces and interests from Iran and terror organizations. 

U.S. service members are in Saudi Arabia in coordination with and at the invitation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. "This movement of forces provides an additional deterrent, and ensures our ability to defend our forces and interests in the region from emergent, credible threats," a Pentagon official said, and the forces  give U.S. Central Command more operational depth and improved logistical networks.

Officials will not disclose the numbers of American troops in the kingdom, but said generally they include fighter aircraft, engineers, logistics, signal, aviation assets and air defense units.