Upon landing in Riyadh, Esper met with the head of the U.S. Central Command, responsible for military operations in the Middle East
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, with high tensions between Washington and Tehran, and Russia trying to increase its influence in the Middle East.
Esper is likely to meet with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his first trip to the key regional ally since he took office this summer, a visit intended in part to reassure Riyadh about cooperative ties.
Upon landing in Riyadh, he met with the head of the U.S. Central Command, responsible for military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Tensions between the United States and Iran have reached new heights since May 2018, when the Trump administration withdrew from an international agreement that placed limits on Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.
As new U.S.-imposed sanctions put pressure on Iran's economy, there have been a series of attacks in which Washington and its close allies blame Tehran.
Iran has denied any responsibility in such attacks, while the United States has deployed an additional three thousand military forces since May to reinforce Saudi defenses, including an expeditionary wing and air defense personnel.
Despite the additional troops, the sudden withdrawal of President Donald Trump's forces from northeast Syria has raised doubts about Washington's commitment to its allies and opened the door for Russia to increase its regional influence.
The measure was criticized as a betrayal of the Kurdish allies who fought for years alongside U.S. troops against the Islamic state. Esper said Monday that at least some troops could stay to deny the Islamic state access to oil fields.