The White House has abandoned efforts to arrange a summit with Persian Gulf Arab leaders during President Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia in coming days because of divisions with the group of regional US allies.
Obama will go ahead with his scheduled talks with Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz in Riyadh next Friday, at the end of a trip to Europe that is expected to be dominated by the Ukraine crisis, Obama’s top national security aide said on Friday.
In an unprecedented move within the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council of allied states, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar on March 5.
The three PGCC states are infuriated by Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement they see as a dangerous political enemy in their countries as well as in Egypt. They are also at loggerheads with Qatar over Syria policies.
Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, said the White House had considered holding a PGCC summit in Riyadh weeks ago and began “preliminary consultations” but then abandoned the idea.
“The situation between and among the members of the PGCC has grown more complex of late,” she told reporters at a briefing to preview Obama’s trip.
“And while we maintain very strong and cooperative relationships with each of the PGCC countries, we didn’t think that from their point of view that the time was optimal for a collective meeting.”
Failure to go ahead with the regional meeting, which had been widely anticipated, further complicates the Obama administration’s efforts to reassure Persian Gulf allies about US-led nuclear diplomacy with Iran and narrow their differences with the US over how to respond to Syria’s conflict.
Obama is expected to use his talks with the Saudi king to try to mend relations with Riyadh, the world’s top oil exporter and a longtime US ally in the region.
US officials have made clear they would prefer to see Persian Gulf partners reconciled but Rice stopped short of saying Washington would try to mediate among the group.
She said, however, that Obama’s talks with the Saudi king and his meeting with General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, at a nuclear security conference in The Hague next week “will inform our efforts to encourage the continued cooperation among those partners in the PGCC.”