Obama speaks at a summit with Persian Gulf leaders that's off to a shaky start

President Barack Obama has spoken at the conclusion of his summit with Arab leaders at Camp David, a meeting held to reassure the Persian Gulf states over the impact of a possible nuclear deal with Iran.

Noting it’s a time of “extraordinary challenges” in the region, Obama said that the US would potentially come to the Gulf States’ defence if any of those countries’ territorial integrity were jeopardized. He left open the possibility of “the potential use of military force for the defence of our GCC partners.”

“I am reaffirming our ironclad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners,” said Obama, explaining that cooperation with the Gulf States had been a “fundamental tenant of American foreign policy” for decades.

He also talked of a Syrian “government without Bashar Assad,” suggesting that the US once again believes that the Syrian president’s removal is a prerequisite for peace in the country.

Obama emphasised that he did not ask the Gulf leaders to “sign off” on an Iranian nuclear deal, noting that the deal hasn’t been finalised yet. But he said that the Gulf states believe that a “comprehensive, verifiable” nuclear deal with Iran is in their collective interest.

But, the Gulf states will worry that reduced sanctions against Iran as a result of the deal would lead a newly enriched and emboldened Tehran to engage in “more destabilizing activity,” as Obama noted. He said that “the commitment that Iran has made to its people in terms of shoring up its economy and increasing economic growth” suggested that it would not make aggressive regional policies a top priority after sanctions are lifted.

Obama saudi arabia king salmanReutersSaudi Arabia’s King Salman gestures to the media as he sits with U.S. President Barack Obama (L) at Erga Palace in Riyadh, January 27, 2015.

He also said that Iran’s support for militant group was “low-cost,” suggesting that they would continue at a high level even with sanctions still in place.

Obama suggested that nothing was actually signed between the US and its partners, tamping down speculation that the US would offer major non-NATO ally status or a possible formal defence agreement in exchange for Gulf cooperation after a nuclear deal. Even so, he characterised the summit as a chance for both sides to lay out their concerns for a post-deal Persian Gulf region.

At the same time, Obama alluded to the idea that the Gulf states would inevitably to adjust to the US’s decisions, just as the US would have to address some of their concerns.
“Our relationship is a two-way street,” said Obama. “We all have responsibilities.”

Saudi Arabia King Salman Crown Prince Murqen MohammedSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty ImagesSaudi King Salman (C), Crown Prince Moqren bin Abdul Aziz (3L), and deputy Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef (L) walk to greet US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on January 27, 2015.

The meeting — which includes high-level officials from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain — got off to a shaky start when Obama incorrectly introduced the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia and misnamed the founder of the kingdom after being snubbed by King Salman of Saudi Arabia who backed out of the summit only one day prior.

Salman was not the only high-ranking leader to back out. The highest-ranking leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE — 4/6 of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s members — declined to attend as well, citing the respective leaders’ declining health.

During the summit itself, reports emerged that Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are talking about matching Iran’s nuclear capacity if the US allows Iran to go ahead with some of its uranium enrichment under a final nuclear deal.

“My guess is that the summit is going to leave everybody feeling a little bit unsatisfied,” Jon Alterman, the Middle East director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Associated Press.

The Gulf states’ ire stems primarily from the US-brokered nuclear deal with Iran, one of their biggest regional rivals, and Obama’s refusal to sign a defence treaty with the Gulf Cooperation Council that would require the US to intervene if Iran were to attack one of its members.

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