Four rulers of a six-member alliance of Persian Gulf states will likely be absent from a summit hosted by President Obama this week at Camp David.
In a statement Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Thursday’s summit coincides with a humanitarian cease-fire in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Shiite rebels known as Houthis. He said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is also interior minister, would lead the Saudi delegation and the king’s son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is defense minister, will also attend.
Obama had planned to meet Saudi Arabia’s King Salman one-on-one a day before the gathering of leaders at the presidential retreat but the White House did not take his decision to skip the summit as a sign of any substantial disagreement with the U.S.
“We first learned of the King’s possible change of plans from Saudis on Friday night,” a senior U.S. administration official told Fox News. “This was confirmed by the Saudis on Saturday. We coordinated closely with our Saudi partners on the alternate arrangement and timing of the announcement and look forward to welcoming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This is not in response to any substantive issue.”
King Salman, who took power in January after his brother King Abdullah died, has not traveled abroad since his ascension to the throne.
The tiny island kingdom of Bahrain said separately Sunday that its delegation would be headed by the country’s crown prince, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Bahrain, whose leadership has close ties to the Saudis, is an important military ally of the U.S. It is the longstanding host to the Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is responsible for operations around the Arabian Peninsula and northern Indian Ocean, and is Washington’s main naval counterbalance to Iran.
Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at Emirates University, told the Associated Press Gulf leaders were staying away to signal their displeasure over the nuclear talks.
“I don’t think they have a deep respect, a deep trust for Obama and his promises. There is a fundamental difference between his vision of post-nuclear-deal Iran and their vision,” he said. “They think Iran is a destabilizing force and will remain so, probably even more, if the sanctions are lifted. … They’re just not seeing things eye to eye.”
The sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said, is also among those staying away. The sultanate will be represented instead by the deputy prime minister, Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, and other officials, the country’s official news agency announced.
The sultan’s absence comes as little surprise. The long-serving monarch, whose country maintains cordial relations with Iran and has served as a go-between for Tehran and Washington, returned home in March after spending several months in Germany being treated for an undisclosed illness.
Health issues are also expected to keep the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, from attending. He suffered a stroke in January last year and has not been seen publicly since.
Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president’s half-brother, held talks with Obama at the White House last month and is expected to lead the Emirati delegation.
At the summit, leaders of Gulf nations will be looking for assurance that Obama has their support when the region feels under siege from Islamic extremists and Syria, Iraq and Yemen are in various states of chaos. Arab allies also feel threatened by Iran’s rising influence and worry the nuclear pact taking shape with the U.S., Iran and other nations may embolden Tehran to intrude more aggressively in countries of the region.
SOURCE: Fox News