Obama to push for Gulf missile defence at summit

Obama to push for Gulf missile defence at summit
The US President is to push next week for a regional defence system to help Arab Gulf allies, as he seeks to reassure them over any nuclear deal with Iran.
3 min read
Obama will host the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council on May 13-14 [Getty]

US President Barack Obama will host leaders from Gulf states as he seeks to diminish concerns over a nuclear deal with Iran.

The two-day summit will take place May 13-14, with one day at the White House and the next at Camp David.

Leaders from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will attend, after wrapping up their annual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit on Tuesday in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

During the GCC summit, Saudi Arabia's King Salman urged his fellow Gulf leaders to stand up to Iran, as Yemeni rebels backed by Tehran bombarded a Saudi border city.

In a clear reference to Iran, Salman stressed the need to confront an external threat that "aims to expand control and impose its hegemony", risking regional stability and creating "sectarian sedition".

French President Francois Hollande, the first Western leader to attend a GCC summit, said France shared the dangers facing the region and he had come "to affirm the commitment of France to be by your side".

"I know that Iran is at the heart of your preoccupations," Hollande told the summit.

Both Paris and Washington have also sought to reassure the Gulf states about an international accord being finalised over Iran's nuclear programme.

A Missile defence system

Obama is expected to make a renewed US push to help Gulf allies create a region-wide defence system to guard against Iranian missiles, Reuters news agency reported.

The offer could be accompanied by enhanced security commitments, new arms sales and more joint military exercises, as Obama tries to reassure Gulf Arab countries that Washington is not abandoning them.

Obama issued the invitation to the GCC after Iran and six world powers reached a framework agreement last month that would give Tehran sanctions relief for reining in its nuclear programme.

Gulf states fear Iran could still develop an atomic bomb under the deal that would limit its nuclear capabilities in return for lifting crippling international sanctions.

Tehran denies trying to develop a nuclear weapon.

In its final statement, the GCC expressed hope that a final accord between Tehran and six major powers, including France and the US, would "guarantee the peaceful character of the Iranian nuclear programme".

The leaders also requested that the accord "conform to all the international standards".

Yemen crisis

The Saudi king also announced the establishment of a centre to coordinate humanitarian assistance for Yemen during the GCC meeting and invited the United Nations to join in relief work for the Arab country.

All but Oman are in the Sunni coalition that on March 26 launched airstrikes against the rebels and their allies who have seized large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled to Riyadh when the rebels advanced on his southern refuge Aden.

Concern has mounted over the air campaign, which has continued despite the coalition's announcement late last month that it was moving to a new phase.

The UN says at least 1,200 people have been killed in Yemen since March 19. It has repeatedly warned the already impoverished Arabian Peninsula state faces a major humanitarian crisis.

Saudi Arabia has said it is considering temporary halts in air strikes to allow aid deliveries.

Hollande told the summit France supports coalition efforts "to ensure the stability of Yemen", and backs Saudi Arabia's position that talks between Yemen's political forces must be held in Riyadh.

The leaders at the summit also welcomed Hadi's decision to convene on May 17 in Riyadh a congress for "all the Yemeni parties who support the legitimacy, security and stability of Yemen".