Tensions overshadow Obama-Gulf summit
LONDON - On a visit that has been widely labelled as a fence-mending mission, US President Barack Obama reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the security of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Despite efforts to project a united front, however, previous tensions between the US leader and the GCC overshadowed the summit.
Speaking after the meetings, Obama said: “I reaffirmed the policy of the United States to use all elements of our power to secure our core interests in the Gulf region and to deter and confront external aggression against our allies and our partners.”
He went on to say that the meeting “reviewed important progress” since the US-Gulf summit at Camp David in 2015, adding that leaders agreed to “build an even-stronger partnership between our nations”.
Pundits have been quick to highlight a perceived snub by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud upon Obama’s arrival. Obama, who is probably on his final trip to the region as president, was met by a small Saudi delegation but the Saudi monarch greeted arriving GCC leaders personally. The incident led to the hashtag #King_Salman_ shuns_Greeting_Obama trending in Arabic on Twitter, with many Saudis applauding the alleged snub.
“I nearly cried when I learned about the king’s decision. It’s our right to give them a taste of their own medicine,” wrote user Abdul- Rahman. Another user wrote: “A clear message from the king of decisiveness.”
Despite working closely on a number of regional issues, including Yemen, Syria and the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), divisions between the traditional partners were clear, especially with regards to the Iranian nuclear deal. Gulf leaders believe the agreement will bolster the Islamic Republic, enabling it to increase destabilising activities in the region.
Relations were further strained when in an interview with the Atlantic magazine Obama said Saudi Arabia needed to “share the neighbourhood” with Iran and labelled Gulf allies “free riders”.
Before the GCC summit, Obama had a one-on-one meeting with Salman, which, according to a White House official, “really cleared the air” between the two leaders. However, in an interview with CNN, former Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki Al-Faisal said there was going to have to be “a recalibration of our relationship with America”.
“How far we can go with our dependence on America?” Faisal asked. “How much can we rely on steadfastness from American leadership? What is it that makes for our joint benefits to come together?”
According to the final summit communiqué, the meeting in Riyadh reaffirmed the GCC-US strategic partnership in pursuit of a stable, secure and prosperous region. It emphasised intensifying the campaign to defeat ISIS and al- Qaeda and to address external and internal threats, including Iran’s activities, while working to reduce regional and sectarian tensions that fuel instability.