A US aircraft carrier in the Gulf hosted one of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful figures, official media said on Wednesday, as regional concerns mount over alleged interference by Iran. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also defence minister, boarded the USS Theodore Roosevelt which is operating in Gulf waters, the Saudi Press Agency said. “The visit comes in response to an invitation by the US Department of Defense,” it said, adding that Salman was briefed on the carrier’s weapons and operations. The ship is operating in the area of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in Saudi Arabia’s neighbour Bahrain.
Salman’s visit comes as Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states worry that Washington, their traditional defence partner in the region, is not taking seriously enough their concerns about what they consider Shiite Iran’s “destabilising acts” in the Middle East. Those concerns have grown as the United States, France, Britain, China, Germany and Russia try to finalise with Tehran an agreement to prevent it from getting a nuclear weapon. Gulf states are worried that Iran could still be able to develop an atomic bomb under the emerging deal to end 12 years of nuclear tensions. Saudi Arabia has been deepening ties with France and other major powers beyond its traditional US ally, while also adopting a more assertive foreign policy of its own. A Saudi-led Arab coalition in March began bombing Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen. The United States has been assisting the coalition with aerial refuelling and intelligence.