Only two Gulf monarchs will now attend a Washington summit hosted by Barack Obama this week for allied Arab nations, after Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz made a last-minute withdrawal from the high-profile stateside meetings.
Saudi Arabia's state-run television channel announced that King Salman, who took the throne in April following the death of his half-brother, was unable to attend the US summit — due to a five-day humanitarian ceasefire in Yemen scheduled to start on Tuesday.
However, the short-notice timing of the cancellation has prompted speculation that the monarch, who Obama was reportedly set to meet one-on-one, is snubbing the White House due to its lead role in nuclear negotiations with Iran. Saudi Arabia is instead sending Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is also interior minister, and King Salman's son.
Hours later the neighboring island kingdom of Bahrain — an important US ally — followed suit, announcing its delegation too would be headed by the Crown Prince, rather than the monarch. The sultan of Oman is also skipping the summit, with the kingdom announcing on Sunday that the deputy prime minister would represent it at the meetings. The president of the United Arab Emirates is also expected to be absent due to health issues.
Speaking to VICE News Christopher Davidson, a Middle East analyst and Gulf expert, said the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which have centuries old ties, were clearly "disgruntled" with the Obama administration, and aimed to stoke the idea the US president was failing on foreign policy. "[These] states have enjoyed long energy and military focused alliances with the US but are now staring into a very different post-Iran demonization future," he added.
Saudi Arabia has been among the most vocal of the Sunni Gulf states in criticizing the ongoing P5+1 negotiations between the US, UK, China, France, Germany, Russia, and Iran, aimed at curbing the Shia country's nuclear aspirations in exchange for a relaxation of United Nations imposed sanctions.
The Washington meetings, scheduled to take place on Wednesday and Thursday at the White House and Camp David, a sprawling private presidential retreat in the Maryland countryside, were supposed to help allay those fears.
As well as the Iran threat, Arab leaders from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will also discuss a whole host of other regional security issues including the situation in Syria and Iraq and cooperation in ongoing military offensive in Yemen.
In Paris last Friday US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been a prominent figure in the Iran nuclear negotiations, reassured the GCC that the upcoming summit would involve a "new set of security initiatives" aimed at taking US relations with its Gulf allies "beyond anything we've had before."
Another topic on the agenda for the Gulf leaders will be increasing their purchasing powers at American defense firms. The Arab countries reportedly have an eye on items such as powerful bunker buster bombs and top of the range F-35 fighter jets, but the US currently prohibits their sale due to a longstanding commitment to maintaining Israel's military supremacy in the region.
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