Saudi King Salman’s last-minute cancellation of his White House summit with US President Obama and his decision to send Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in his place, is seen as a calculated snub for the president’s policies on Iran and the Middle East. Two senior Gulf rulers then opted out of the Camp David summit Obama scheduled for Wednesday, May 13 at Camp David: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isaa Al Khalifa and UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, leaving only the rulers of Qatar and Kuwait.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced Monday, May 12, that the king could not make the one-on-one White House summit Tuesday, May 12, because the five-day humanitarian truce in Yemen was due to start on that day.
But every informed source agrees that this was just an excuse to back out of the promise made to US Secretary of State John Kerry, when he visited Riyadh last week, that he would attend both the White House and the Camp David events.”
Gulf sources reported that Obama’s Gulf summit teetered after Kerry failed to sell King Salman the president’s plan for a new US-led regional defense system for guarding against Iranian missiles. It was to be a shared response to Iran’s nuclear program and regional expansion, and allay Gulf allies’ concerns over the forthcoming nuclear deal with Tehran.
But Kerry informed Riyadh that Obama would not be ready to sign a written regional defense pact between the US and the Gulf Cooperation Council at the Camp David summit, as some Gulf rulers had insisted.
Washington and the GCC also remained sharply at odds on the Syrian war and the Bashar Assad’s political future. The Saudis are not content with the US supplying the Syrian opposition for the first time with heavy weapons. They also want no-fly zones imposed over the war-torn country, arguing that weapons are not much use so long as the Syrian Air Force is free to strike rebel forces at will – and are armed by Iran, moreover, for chemical warfare.
The other bone the Saudis had to pick with the Americans was the Yemen war. They maintained to the Secretary of State that, while Obama was offering the region a hypothetic defense shield against Iran, at the same time, American assistance fell short of Saudi needs for beating back the Houthi rebels sponsored by Tehran. They complained especially about the lack of US naval protection in the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden.
In Riyadh’s view, the Obama administration is trying to walk a fine line between irreconcilable positions: Saudi Arabia’s requirements, on the one hand, and Iran’s illicit seizure of merchant ships in international waters, on the other. By accepting Tehran’s demand for Iranian ships and planes to deliver “humanitarian aid” to Yemen, the Obama administration is opening the door to arms supplies for the Houthis and deeper Iranian intervention in Yemen.
All that Kerry achieved in his two days of talks in Riyadh was to obtain Saudi Arabia’s consent to declare a five-day ceasefire for humanitarian aid to reach the stricken Yemen population.
But the most vexing issue between Washington and Riyadh continues to be the nuclear deal between Washington and Tehran which Obama is pushing to the exclusion of almost any other consideration.
debkafile’s Gulf sources note that had Kerry been able to build Saudi and Gulf support for this deal, Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would have been left hanging alone. By refusing to attend the summit convened by Barack Obama, Saudi King Salman is signaling that he is not going to default on the Middle East front lined up against the US president’s Iranian venture.