Obama Commits U.S. to Defend Gulf Arab Allies’ Territory

The president declares commitment to regional allies worried about America’s engagement with Iran.

President Obama addresses the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on May 12, 2015.
National Journal
May 14, 2015, 4:07 p.m.

CAMP DAV­ID, Md.—Of the six Ar­ab lead­ers in­vited to the sum­mit, one was too busy, two called in sick, and a fourth skipped it to go to a horse show in­stead.

The Gulf Co­oper­a­tion Coun­cil con­fer­ence was nev­er­the­less “the be­gin­ning of a new era of co­oper­a­tion,” Pres­id­ent Obama de­clared Thursday after a daylong series of meet­ings.

“I want to thank each of the lead­ers and del­eg­a­tions who at­ten­ded. We ap­proached our dis­cus­sions in a spir­it of mu­tu­al re­spect,” Obama said. “And here at Camp Dav­id, we de­cided to ex­pand our part­ner­ship in sev­er­al im­port­ant and con­crete ways.”

Obama laid out five points of agree­ment among all the coun­tries, top among them a com­mit­ment by the United States to re­spond to an “ex­tern­al threat” to any of the na­tions’ ter­rit­ori­al in­teg­rity, which could in­clude the use of mil­it­ary force, as well as the de­vel­op­ment of a bal­list­ic-mis­sile de­fense for the Gulf na­tions. “And let me un­der­score, the United States keeps our com­mit­ments,” Obama said.

The pres­id­ent called for the gath­er­ing as a way of calm­ing the Gulf na­tions’ wor­ries shortly after the an­nounce­ment of the frame­work of an agree­ment with Ir­an on its nuc­le­ar pro­gram. But the GCC states pushed for a NATO-like mu­tu­al-de­fense al­li­ance to counter Ir­an, which was much fur­ther than the Obama White House was will­ing to go.

That dis­agree­ment was fol­lowed by four of the coun­tries’ lead­ers de­cid­ing that they couldn’t per­son­ally at­tend, after all. King Sal­man of Saudi Ar­a­bia cited the on­go­ing con­flict in Ye­men, where Saudi Ar­a­bia has launched air­strikes against the Ir­an-backed Houthi rebels. Two oth­ers cited health prob­lems, while Bahrain’s King Ha­mad bin Isa al-Khal­ifa skipped the Camp Dav­id meet­ing to at­tend a horse show in Eng­land with Queen Eliza­beth II. Of the six na­tions, only the emirs of Kuwait and Qatar per­son­ally made the trip.

The emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Ha­mad al-Thani, said af­ter­ward, ac­cord­ing to a trans­la­tion from Ar­ab­ic by Al Jaz­eera: “There are many things that we agree with the friends here in Amer­ica.”

White House of­fi­cials down­played the lead­ers’ de­cisions not to at­tend. Deputy Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Ad­viser Ben Rhodes said those lower-rank­ing of­fi­cials who did at­tend were pre­cisely the ones im­mersed in se­cur­ity ne­go­ti­ations for their coun­tries.

As to a mu­tu­al-de­fense pact, that was way bey­ond the scope of the meet­ing, Rhodes said. “A mu­tu­al-de­fense treaty is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent type of ar­range­ment,” he said. “It’s one that would take far more time to de­vel­op than the lead-up time to the sum­mit and, frankly, would de­pend upon a meet­ing of the minds on a host of is­sues.”

Obama and rep­res­ent­at­ives of the six GCC coun­tries agreed to fol­low up with a second sum­mit meet­ing next year.

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