President Obama opened a summit with Gulf Arab allies on Thursday in order to win backing over Washington’s framework agreement with Iran on its nuclear program and to discuss various hot-button issues affecting the region.
The rare one-day summit, being held at the presidential retreat at Camp David, is unlikely to conclude with a major breakthrough as tensions continue to persist over Iran and on what the Arab leaders views as a lack of a viable Syria policy.
Only two heads of state of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were in attendance at the summit, with several deciding to skip the summit all together, including the leader of Saudi Arabia. This was seen a snub to President Obama over his administration’s nuclear deal with Iran and over its Syria policy.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the summit in his place. Saudi Arabia is currently embroiled in a military campaign to rout the Iran-backed Houthi rebels from making additional gains in the country. Both sides in the conflict are currently observing a five-day humanitarian ceasefire to being in much needed supplies of food and medicine.
Members of the GCC, which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, are deeply skeptical over the framework deal reached with Iran in early April. The Sunni-led governments are concerned that if a final deal is reached in June, it would further embolden Iran in a region where it is already heavily involved in several countries, including in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. A deal with Iran is also likely to reduce the sanctions placed on it over the years, something that the GCC believes would only further enable Iranian aggression.
President Obama is hoping that the summit with GCC leaders will attempt to limit such criticism over any final deal with Iran. GCC leaders are hoping for additional support from the United States, including a defense pact similar to what Washington has with NATO countries. While this is unlikely, according to many analysts, additional military support and arms deals may materialize.
The GCC counties are also expected to discuss the ongoing civil war in Syria. Several Sunni-Arab leaders have been critical of the United States for not providing additional support to the opposition in order to oust the Iran-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
President Obama is expected to hold a news conference at the end of the summit, expected at 5 p.m. Washington time.