Obama speaks to Saudi king amid claim of snub

Obama speaks to Saudi king amid claim of snub
The White House said President Barack Obama spoke to Saudi Arabia's King Salman Monday, after the monarch pulled out of a high-profile summit.
3 min read

Senior US and Saudi officials appeared in public to insist that the decision by the King of Saudi Arabia to skip a Gulf US summit Wednesday was not a snub nor part of a deeper crisis in never-easy ties that date back decades.

King Salman pulled out of a summit with the US and GCC states at the eleventh hour.

The US president invited six Gulf leaders to meet in Camp David, amid suspicions that Washington is no longer committed to Gulf security and is not doing enough to stop Iran's destabilising actions across the region.

The White House, meanwhile, announced that Obama and Salman had spoken by telephone.

Salman called Obama to "express his regret at not being able to travel to Washington," the White House said.

"The two leaders emphasised the strength of the two countries' partnership, based on their shared interest and commitment to the stability and prosperity of the region."

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir appeared on TV Monday also to refute claims of a snub.

Al-Jubeir insisted that "this is not related in any way, shape or form to any disagreement between the two countries".

"I think the idea that this is a snub because the king did not attend is really off base. This is an extremely high-level delegation. It has absolutely the right people to represent the kingdom."

Al-Jubeir also dismissed suggestions that King Salman had been forced to cancel the visit due to long-rumoured ill health.

"The king's health is excellent, thank God," he said.

Disagreement over Iran

There is an undeniable concern that a nuclear deal with Iran could unfreeze tens of billions of dollars that Tehran could use to buy weapons or augment support for proxy groups.

"Underlying all of this is how do we confront Iran's interference in the affairs of the countries of the region," Saudi Foreign Minister said Monday.

"We see Iran's hand in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq. We see Iran's hand in Yemen.

"We see Iran facilitating terrorist organizations, so the challenge is how do we collectively in the GCC and the US coordinate our efforts."

Low expectations

Despite US-Gulf efforts to undermine differences, both countries admit that there are significant disagreements on how to deal with Iran and how the US must guarantee the safety and security of the Gulf.

The United Arab Emirates is demanding a signed gaurantee.“In the past we have survived with a gentlemen’s agreement with the United States about security,” said Yousef al-Otaiba, UAE ambassador to Washington.

“Today, we need something in writing. We need something institutionalised.”

Saudi officials were less specific. “I don’t have a problem with written or non-written,” al-Jubeir said. “Our faith in America’s word is total.”

But the US administration insists on concluding the summit with a presidential statement rather than a defence treaty.

"That [defence treaty] is something we told them weeks ago was not possible," said National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East, Robert Malley.

"I think whether they were disappointed or not, they got it, they understood that." 

Instead of a treaty, the presidential statement is expected to promise greater US support to Gulf states' armies and reassure them that Iran Deal would not threaten their interests.

Obama is expected to compensate Gulf dissatisfaction by announcing greater support to Syrian opposition forces and reaffirming the delegitimacy of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Also, the US President is expected to adopt GCC statement on Yemen as the basis for political transition.