DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A delegation of prominent U.S. Christian evangelicals met Tuesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the kingdom’s Red Sea city of Jiddah as he works to forge closer ties with an influential electoral base in America that could be crucial to the 2020 elections.
The Saudi government published photos of the meeting, which was attended by leading American Christian Zionist leaders, including dual U.S.-Israeli national Joel Rosenberg.
The nine-person delegation also included the Rev. Johnnie Moore, a co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council; Larry Ross, a former longtime spokesman for one of America’s most well-known evangelicals Billy Graham; and Pastor Skip Heitzig, whose Calvary Albuquerque church in New Mexico is among the largest with over 15,000 congregants.
A brief statement issued by the Saudi Embassy in Washington said the two sides discussed promoting coexistence and combatting extremism.
It marks the second visit to Saudi Arabia by U.S. evangelicals to meet with Prince Mohammed. The first took place in November, just weeks after the murder of Saudi critic and writer Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. The crown prince continues to face fierce bipartisan criticism in the U.S. over the killing, despite denials by the kingdom that he had any involvement.
For the crown prince and other Arab leaders, meetings such as this offer an opportunity to strengthen ties with the Trump administration through his evangelical base of supporters.
For the evangelical delegations, it is an opportunity for interreligious dialogue and to push for greater Arab support for the state of Israel.
For many U.S. evangelicals, strengthening the Jewish state is at the very core of their faith. Most believe that before Jesus can return and rule, Jews must return to the Holy Land and rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, also the site of Islam’s sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
In an email response to The Associated Press, Rosenberg said each person in the delegation traveled to Saudi Arabia in an individual capacity and that the group had meetings with a range of officials on Monday and Tuesday, with plans for more meetings on Wednesday. Traveling by motorcade, they had meetings with U.S. Ambassador John Abizaid, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen, and flew to the ancient Saudi site of Al-Ula for a tour.
Rosenberg could not be immediately reached for further comment on the meeting with the crown prince or other details of the visit.
Tuesday’s meeting at the royal palace in Jiddah also included Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Princess Reema bint Bandar, Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, and head of the Muslim World League Sheikh Mohammed al-Eissa.