On Gulf Visit, Obama Aims for Saudi-Iran Detente

US President Barack Obama will make his final trip to the Persian Gulf as president when he visits Saudi Arabia later this month to participate in a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit. It will be his last official meeting with regional leaders before he leaves the White House in 10 months, in January 2017.
The White House said the summit will address the fight against ISIS and other security issues in the Middle East. However, it did not mention a single word about Iran, even though it is clear to everybody in Washington and Riyadh connected to the planning of the visit that Obama will focus on three main topics, which are:
1. A larger role by Gulf states in the war against terror, especially against ISIS.
2. A last attempt by Obama to convince Gulf rulers to accept the nuclear agreement with Iran as an established fact, which he believes will spur negotiations between those rulers and Iran that will lead to a reconciliation between the two sides.
3. The senior American officials planning the visit, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, believe that Obama can bring about an understanding between Gulf leaders and Iran if the wars in Yemen and Syria come to an end, and if Saudi Arabia receives a greater role in the joint efforts by the US and Russia in Syria.
Regarding Yemen, the Americans used heavy pressure on the Iranians and the Omanis, who assumed the role of mediators, to bring about the cease-fire that went into effect on April 11.
But there are very few officials in Washington or any of the Gulf capitals who believe that the cease-fire will even hold until Obama arrives in Saudi Arabia on April 21.
Secretary of State Kerry is said to be ready to accept a partial resumption of the fighting in Yemen, like the one in Syria last week.
However, Kerry’s “final rehearsal” for the presidential visit, a meeting with GCC foreign ministers in the Bahraini capital Manama on April 7, did not go well.
The foreign ministers, who received instructions from Riyadh to deliver a clear message to Kerry, asked him how the Iranian leadership could possibly demonstrate a more flexible and moderate policy when Iran’s domestic and foreign policies are determined by senior officers of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, not President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Muhammad Jawad Zarif. The ministers also wanted to know why arms shipments to Yemen’s Houthi rebels are continuing even though their countries were promised that the shipments would be stopped, and why Iran is being allowed to continue testing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
Kerry did not have any convincing answers, only saying that Gulf leaders should be encouraged by the internal struggle underway in Iran between supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and two senior political figures, President Hassan Rouhani and his political ally Hashem Rafsanjani. Referring to Khamenei’s recent statement that “anyone who thinks negotiations are more important than building a missile system are traitors,” Kerry said it proves that even the supreme leader must consider the views of those who think differently.
In order to strengthen its position ahead of Obama’s visit to the region, the US deployed B-52 long-range strategic bombers to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on April 9. US spokesmen refused to specify the number of B-52s that have been deployed for operations against ISIS targets in the Middle East.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and military sources report that US forces will carry out a large-scale assault against an ISIS target ahead of Obama’s trip in order to convince Gulf leaders that the president does not intend to leave office quietly as he had planned, but rather continue the war against terror until the end of his term.
But there is another side to all of the US diplomatic and military preparations. Various US media organizations are planning to publish a series of investigations on Saudi Arabia, mainly on its violations of human rights and support for Islamic terror, ahead of Obama’s trip.
The Saudis are especially concerned that American TV news magazine 60 Minutes is about to publish 28 documents proving the Saudi Arabian government’s direct involvement in the planning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Despite Washington’s preparations, the Saudis remain bitter after Obama said in an interview published by The Atlantic last month that Riyadh is a “free rider” on his country’s foreign policy.
From the perspective of Gulf leaders, including the Saudis, there is no difference between Obama’s comments and those of US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has vowed to make Saudi Arabia, along with a group of other countries, pay for US military and nuclear protection.

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