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Obama Heads to Middle East, Europe


U.S. President Barack Obama is on his way to Riyadh for talks with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. It is the first stop on a trip that will also include a major speech in Egypt, and ceremonies in France commemorating the allied invasion that turned the tide of World War II.

The highlight of the trip will come on Thursday, when the president will deliver his much awaited speech to the world's Muslims from Cairo.

But before he goes to the Egyptian capital, he is stopping in Riyadh for a private meeting with the Saudi King.

They will consult at King Abdullah's farm, where the president will remain for the night.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs predicts a full agenda for the talks, including the Middle East peace process, and concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Rising oil prices are also likely to be discussed, along with President Obama's plans to reduce America's reliance on foreign suppliers.

During a recent session with reporters, Mr. Obama said he will be candid with the Saudi monarch.

"I'll be very honest with King Abdullah with whom I have developed a good relationship, indicating to him that we're not going to be eliminating our need for oil imports in the immediate future; that's not our goal," said President Obama. "What our goal has to be is to advance the clean energy solutions in this country that can strengthen our economy, put people back to work, diversify our energy sources."

It will be their first extended face-to-face meeting since Mr. Obama took office. Experts believe there will be many more to come.

Jon Alterman is head of the Middle East program at the Center for Stategic and International Studies in Washington.

"I think in a year's time, you're going to see a much closer U.S.-Saudi relationship than you have now, and I think it's good that the president is stopping off," said Jon Alterman.

Alterman says the president realizes that if he wants to get anything done in the Middle East, it will be a big help to have the Saudis on board.

"Having the Saudis working with you makes a big difference, and having the Saudis working against you also makes a big difference - and it's better to have them working with you," he said.

President Obama will have no public appearances in Riyadh, in stark contrast to his itinerary in Cairo.

His address at Cairo University on Thursday will be broadcast around the world. Mr. Obama is not expected to put forward any new proposals. Instead, his goal will be to ease tensions between the United States and the world's Muslims - tensions intensified by the Iraq war and a lack of progress in the Middle East peace process.

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