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The King and O
Saudi King Snubs Obama on Eve of Summit

King Salman of Saudi Arabia has announced at the eleventh hour that he will not attend President Obama’s high-profile Arab summit, which starts today at Camp David. As a result, the Administration, which realized late in the day how much it needed the Gulf powers to make a deal stick, now finds its defining foreign policy effort in jeopardy. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Senior Arab officials involved in organizing the meeting said not enough progress had been made in narrowing differences with Washington on issues like Iran and Syria to make the Saudi ruler’s trip worth it.

“There isn’t substance for the summit,” said an Arab official who has held discussions with the Obama administration in recent days. […]
The Obama administration planned the summit as a way to build Arab support for the Iran nuclear deal by giving more arms and security guarantees to members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.

As late as Friday, the White House was saying that it expected Saudi King Salman to attend. President Obama had announced he was to meet with the King one-on-one ahead of the Camp David sessions. This morning, Saudi officials covered the snub with diplomatic equivalent of “I have to shampoo my hair”, saying that Salman would not be attending “due to the timing of the summit, the scheduled humanitarian ceasefire in Yemen and the opening of the King Salman Center for Humanitarian Aid.”

Though White House officials pre-emptively tried to dismiss Saudi Arabia’s announcement as “not in response to any substantive issue”, it’s hard to credit that interpretation. The Sunni states are deeply unhappy with the Iran nuclear talks. A high-level Saudi official had indicated to the AP that the Kingdom would like a defense system and military cooperation similar to what the U.S. affords Israel and Japan—something that is widely seen as a political non-starter in the United States. President Obama had indicated as much and was instead considering issuing a presidential statement on U.S. support for its Sunni allies—a declaration his successors would not have to abide by.

The Gulf monarchies were also reportedly unhappy with President Obama’s saying that allies like Saudi Arabia should be worried about internal threats. Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa will also not be attending the summit, leaving the emirs of Kuwait and Qatar as the only heads of state still slated to arrive.

Beyond the symbolism of the Saudi gesture, both the Saudis and the President are in a nasty strategic bind here. In Saudi eyes—and in the eyes of the world—nuclear weapons will give Iran its ultimate security guarantee. Even, in a lesser scenario, if Iran merely uses its newfound billions to solidify its regional hegemony through conventional means, this also would pose an unacceptable risk in Riyadh’s eyes. The Saudis have asked the U.S. to counter this by explicitly extending its own defense envelope over them—in effect, offering a nuclear umbrella. This the U.S. is unwilling to do.

The trouble is, absent such firm promises, the Saudis may decide to acquire their own ultimate guarantee. Given their close relationship with Sunni, nuclear-armed Pakistan, this may be fairly easy to do. If the Saudis won’t accept a lesser security package (and they appear to be saying no for now), and if they feel the Iran deal to be weak to the point of licensing the mullahs to acquire nuclear weapons or regional hegemony (it appears they do), then the President’s effort to prevent the spread of nuclear arms in Iran risks sparking a regional nuclear arms race.

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  • Ellen

    Nice summation of the sorry predicament into which the Obamoids have inadvertently stumbled. They are ending up with the same result that this entire decade-long nonnegotiation with Iran was supposed to prevent – a nuclear arms race among unstable countries led by insecure or deranged leaders. For a 2-paragraph story that encapsulates this geostrategic fiasco, read Somerset Maughm’s “Appointment in Samarra.” A man flees the marketplace of Baghdad for the distant city of Samarra to avoid the specter of death he has stumbled into in the market, only to find that this specter was waiting for him in Samarra, as already planned.

    What a collection of unsurpassable dunces Obama’s foreign and security policy managers are. And John Kerry, with that long horse-face will be remembered in infamy even more than the usually hidden Ben Rhodes with his Masters in Fine Arts, with a specialization in fiction writing.

  • wigwag

    “This morning, Saudi officials covered the snub with diplomatic equivalent of “I have to shampoo my hair”, saying that Salman would not be attending “due to the timing of the summit, the scheduled humanitarian ceasefire in Yemen and the opening of the King Salman Center for Humanitarian Aid.” (Via Meadia)

    Well, at least he didn’t come up with the “I want to spend more time with my family” excuse.

    From Obama’s perspective the whole thing really isn’t so bad. The Kuwaiti King will be there; he had little choice but to show up after the United States rescued his country from the clutches of Saddam Hussein. Our President and Secretary of State must be high-fiving each other that Qatar’s monarch will be partying with them at Camp David. After all, they love the guy; they agree with him about almost everything. He loves the Muslim Brotherhood; Obama and Kerry love the Muslim Brotherhood. He supports Hamas; Obama and Kerry (in their heart of hearts) support Hamas. He hates Israel; Obama and Kerry can’t stand Israel or its Prime Minister. He thinks that his little emirate has a key role to play in the Middle East; Obama and Kerry think Qatar has a key role to play in the Middle East.

    Sure, the fact that the Saudi King won’t be there steals a little luster from Obama’s tet-a-tet, but at least Obama can take heart that with the Monarchs lounging at Camp David, he will be amongst kindred spirits.

  • Jmaci

    I wish WRM or AG would write about whether the Saudis and others would join up with Israel to attack Iran’s nuke sites. It would seem that such a regional coalition could do the job and have enough “legitimacy” to quiet Obama and Kerry.

  • Gene

    Whose brilliant idea was it to set up such a summit in the first place, thus creating an opportunity for these leaders to snub Obama? Is the WH so blinkered that it didn’t understand that these leaders, who see their own situations as desperate in the face of an Iran-dominated future and who have sent recent signals that they don’t believe a word Obama says, might turn down the invitation?

    • f1b0nacc1

      In fairness, I suspect that Obama believes (in a delusional sort of way) that he can talk these guys into anything. this is fairly consistent with his behavior over the last 6+ years….

  • JR

    I think Obama’s deal with Iran is terrible, and I really hope it collapses. And if it does, I can’t wait to hear about THE JUUUUUUUUIIIICE running the world. The fact that if it does collapse it would be because of opposition of states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and not Israel, will make it that much sweeter.

    • fastrackn1

      “I can’t wait to hear about THE JUUUUUUUUIIIICE running the world.”

      I didn’t know that the world runs on juice….

      • JR

        Me neither. But apparently some people are convinced otherwise….

  • wigwag

    This editorial from the WSJ gets it right,

    • f1b0nacc1

      The Sunnis are no fools here, they know the consequences of another Obama ‘red line’, and that they would be the ones facing it.

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