US Commerce Secretary in Gulf Ahead of Obama Visit

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. Secretary of Commerce is in the Middle East where she said Sunday she will tell officials from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar that closer economic cooperation with Washington is a way to build deeper security ties with the United States.

Penny Pritzker's visit comes just weeks before President Barack Obama is scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia to meet King Abdullah in an effort to patch over strained relations due to U.S. policy on Iran and Syria. It will be Obama's first visit to Saudi Arabia since 2009.

For Pritzker, it is her first trip outside of North America as Secretary of Commerce. Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire and business executive, was sworn in as Secretary in June of last year. She is the first U.S. Secretary of Commerce to visit the Gulf region with a trade mission in 15 years.

Pritzker said her message to the Saudis is that "our American companies want to be here."

"I believe businesses can be a bridge for prosperity and security and so that's basically our message," Pritzker said in an interview with The Associated Press during her first leg of the Mideast tour in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Arabia has expressed a desire to build new alliances after outrage over Washington's rapprochement with its regional rival Iran, which Saudi officials said threatens the kingdom's security.

Pritzker said her department prioritized this region because the Obama Administration puts a high value on America's relationship with the Gulf.


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