Four key Gulf leaders have announced they will not attend a summit hosted by President Obama set to begin on Thursday. Among the missing: Saudi King Salman, Bahrain’s King Hamad, Oman’s Sultan Qaboos and the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Sheikh Khalifa; health-related conditions preclude Oman’s Qaboos and the UAE’s Sheikh Khalifa from joining the summit. Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim and Kuwait’s Emir Al Sabah will attend the multi-day meetings.
From Fox News, the agenda will include: Military aid packages, a missile defense system, joint military exercises in the region, cybersecurity issues and both maritime and border security.
Despite any disagreements, the White House declared those declining the summons for the conference was unrelated to any friction with Washington. An unnamed U.S. official said: “This is not in response to any substantive issue.”
Notwithstanding, according to the Wall Street Journal, one Arab official, involved with the preparation of the meetings contended: “There isn’t substance for the summit.”
Similarly, according to the Associated Press, Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, professor of political science at Emirates University, commented:
“I don’t think they have a deep respect, a deep trust for Obama and his promises. There is a fundamental difference between his vision of post-nuclear-deal Iran and their vision. They think Iran is a destabilizing force and will remain so, probably even more, if the sanctions are lifted. They’re just not seeing things eye to eye.”
In place of the Saudi King, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who doubles as Interior Minister, and the king’s son, also the Defense Minister, Deputy Crown Prince Salman, would be present for the series of meetings. Additionally, Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman, Oman’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, and the UAE’s Crown Prince Sheik Al Nahyan will attend in the absence of their countries’ rulers.
We should avoid the irresistible temptation to jump to conclusions here.
Even in the absence of the heads of state, this meeting is not to be considered a failure. Of the four leaders, three, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, are members of a Saudi-led coalition to eliminate the Houthi threat in Yemen. In time of crisis, particularly the recent cease-fire agreement, it can be determined the demands of their posts supersede Obama’s conference.
In face of the high-ranking subordinates sent to attend, it can be said this is not a diplomatic rebuff. These subordinates are close to their respective leaders and are eminently qualified to relaying concerns, providing input and reporting the outcomes of this summit.