President Barack Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia’s new King Abdullah after the death of King Abdullah.
Barack Obama cut short a trip to India to make time for the visit.
The president is being accompanied by prominent Republican officials, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and Condoleezza Rice.
Saudi Arabia is a key US ally in a region riven by war and rivalries.
Barack Obama had been due to visit the Taj Mahal in India on January 27, but had to cancel to allow for the four-hour visit to Riyadh.
In an interview with CNN before he left India, Barack Obama suggested he would be unlikely to raise the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison last May for “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and “going beyond the realm of obedience”.
Barack Obama’s visit would focus on “paying respects to King Abdullah, who in his own fashion represented some modest reform efforts within the kingdom”, the president added.
On human rights, Barack Obama said: “We have maintained a sustained dialogue with the Saudis and with all the other countries we work with. What I have found effective is to apply steady, consistent pressure, even as we are getting business done that needs to get done.”
“And oftentimes that makes some of our allies uncomfortable. It makes them frustrated, sometimes we have to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability.”
Also among the 30-strong US delegation are CIA director John Brennan, John McCain, the Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, and Republican former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.
Saudi Arabia is among the US-led coalition of Western and Arab nations conducting air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.
Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, acceded to the throne on the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah, on January 23.
King Salman, 79, was governor of Riyadh province for 48 years before becoming defense minister in 2011 and crown prince a year later.
He had already taken on the duties of the king as Abdullah’s health faded.
King Salman is part of an influential faction within the royal family formed of sons and grandsons of the late King Abdulaziz (usually referred to as Ibn Saud) by a favorite wife, Princess Hassa al-Sudairi.
After the deaths of the former king, Fahd, who ruled from 1982 until 2005, and two previous crown princes, Sultan and Nayef, Salman was already the most powerful surviving member of this faction.
As governor of Riyadh, Salman oversaw its transformation from an isolated desert town into a crowded city of skyscrapers, universities and Western fast-food chains.
The post raised Salman’s international profile as he hosted visiting VIPs and envoys and helped secure foreign investment.
As defense minister Salman was head of the Saudi military as it joined the US and other Arab countries in air strikes in Syria in 2014 against the Islamic State militant group.
King Salman’s sons include:
Deputy Oil Minister Prince Abdulaziz
Prince Faisal, the governor of Medina
Prince Sultan, the head of the tourism authority and a former Royal Saudi Air Force pilot and astronaut.
King Salman is not believed to be as personally interested in political or social reform as his predecessor and his priority will be to maintain stability in Saudi Arabia.
Commentators have drawn attention to King Salman’s reputation as a mediator within the huge Saudi royal family, with its complex network of competing factions.
This task has become more fraught as the second tier of senior political posts in Saudi Arabia – the control of key ministries and governorships – has passed from the sons to grandsons of the late King Abdulaziz.
King Salman’s own Sudairi faction within the family, once a powerful and united group of seven full brothers, has itself developed internal rivalries as the sons of those brothers establish their own power bases.
The king’s health has also been a concern. He is reported to have suffered at least one stroke that has left him with limited movement in his left arm.
Correspondents say King Salman has appeared alert and well-briefed in recent meetings but, given his age, there are concerns about his stamina.
After becoming king, Salman announced that the new crown prince would be his half-brother Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, the youngest surviving son of the late King Abdulaziz.