Obama seeks to reassure Gulf states with new joint security measures

Obama, Saudi Arabia
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President Obama on Thursday announced a series of new security initiatives designed to reassure Gulf state allies who are concerned about threats posed by Iran as the U.S. attempts to finalize a nuclear agreement with Tehran. 

But the announcement fell short of the demands of some Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, which wanted the United States to put security commitments in writing as part of a binding mutual defense treaty.

{mosads}During a one-day summit at Camp David, the leaders discussed a new partnership to speed up arms sales and bolster counterterrorism operations, according to a joint statement. They agreed to conduct joint, large-scale military training exercises and create a regional ballistic missile defense system.

The U.S. also reaffirmed it would be prepared to use military force to protect Gulf states against “external threats.” 

“I was very explicit that the United States will stand by our GCC partners against external attack,” Obama told reporters.  “We want to make sure that this is not just a photo op, but a concrete series of steps.”

The president said he agreed to meet with high-level Gulf state leaders again next year. 

The president held a whirlwind day of meetings at Camp David with leaders from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. 

Those nations worry a nuclear deal with Iran would embolden their Shiite rival and allow it to boost its influence in the Middle East. 

At the close of the summit, Obama acknowledged the Gulf states have concerns about Iran “destabilizing activities,” even if a nuclear deal is reached. 

But the president said all the parties agreed that “a comprehensive, verifiable solution that fully addresses the regional and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, is in the security interests of the international community.”

Expectations for the summit were lowered earlier this week, when it was announced the highest-ranking leaders of just two of the six nations would attend. 

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman dropped out of the meeting on Monday after being previously scheduled to attend. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi interior minister, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the defense minister, participated instead. 

King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa of Bahrain reportedly skipped the summit in favor of a horse show with the Queen Elizabeth II of Britain. 

The White House downplayed the absences, saying all nations sent influential top officials.

Obama said the leaders discussed Iran’s “destabilizing activities in the region.” The meeting came on the same day Iranian ships reportedly fired on a Singapore-flagged cargo ship in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. agreed to increase training and technical assistance for Gulf states’ coastal security. 

The leaders also agreed to boost cooperation in combating extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They also discussed the conflict in Yemen, where the U.S. backed a Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels supported by Iran. 

The summit was called last month after the U.S. and five other world powers reached a framework agreement with Iran that would curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. 

The White House views the deal as a key component of Obama’s second-term legacy. Negotiators have set a deadline of June 30 to reach a final agreement.  

– Updated at 7:54 p.m.

Tags Bahrain Barack Obama Gulf States Persian Gulf Saudi Arabia

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