Defense Secretary Esper in Riyadh for Surprise Visit; Kushner, Mnuchin to attend Future Investment Initiative

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper arrived Monday in Saudi Arabia for an unannounced visit as the U.S. and Saudi Arabia seek to bolster their joint defense in the face of rising regional tensions.

Secretary Esper met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in Riyadh, photos show, and Esper said he discussed the deployment of U.S. forces and equipment to the Kingdom. 

“We agree with the need to take a firm defensive stance in the region to deter Iranian malign behavior and promote stability,” Esper said.

The visit by Secretary Esper comes on the heels of a recent decision by the U.S. to send new US troops to Saudi Arabia after Riyadh asked for reinforcements following a mid-September drone and missile attack on Saudi oil plants, which Washington, the Kingdom, and several European nations blame on Iran.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Saudi Arabia's King Salman.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

Esper said that two fighter squadrons and additional missile defense batteries were being sent to Saudi Arabia, bringing to about 3,000 the total number of troops deployed there since last month, according to Voice of America.

After meeting with Saudi leaders, Esper toured the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh and Prince Sultan Air Base, according to his posts on Twitter. Esper said he would be “meeting with troops and seeing the capabilities we have deployed to the region to help defend Saudi Arabia, deter Iran and prevent conflict.”

Esper’s visit follows that of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Saudi Arabia last month shortly after the oilfield strikes.

Meanwhile, top advisor to the President Jared Kushner and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin will visit Saudi Arabia next week for the Kingdom’s third installment of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference, according to reports.

The FII, also dubbed the “Davos in the Desert,” is a high-profile conference that seeks to display investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia. Last year, both Mnuchin and Kushner withdrew their participation following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.