WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama may try to persuade Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to create a region-wide missile defence system when he meets them next week, officials said on Sunday.
Before heading to the Camp David presidential resort, near Washington, for the six-plus-one summit, President Obama will also host Saudi King Salman at the White House on Wednesday.
President Obama sent invitations to member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council to attend the May 13-14 summit after Iran and six world powers reached a framework nuclear agreement last month.
The agreement gives Tehran sanctions in return for curbing its nuclear ambitions but does not require it to abandon the programme. At the summit, Mr Obama hopes to assure America’s Gulf allies that a nuclear deal with Iran will not lessen Washington’s commitment to their security.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait are expected to attend this meeting at the US presidential resort near Washington where Egypt and Israel signed a historic accord in September 1978.
The US media reported on Sunday that besides offering an advanced missile defence system, the Obama administration might also offer a range of sophisticated weapons to Saudi Arabia to assuage its fears. President Obama will also assure his Arab allies that the United States remains “determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons,” senior officials told various US media outlets.
On Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry met foreign ministers of the Arab nations attending the Camp David summit “to lay the groundwork for the Washington summit,” the US media reported. In Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the United States, told Voice of America radio that members of the Gulf Cooperation Council were looking for more than verbal assurances.
“We are looking for some form of security guarantee, given the behaviour of Iran in the region [and] given the rise of the extremist threat,” he said. “In the past, we have lived with a gentlemen’s agreement … today we need something in writing; we need something institutionalised.”
And Obama administration officials told the media that Washington is willing to oblige with new arms sales and more joint military exercises.
But diplomatic sources in Washington say that the GCC is looking for something more concrete, such as a Nato like agreement that would require the US military to defend its Arab allies if they are attacked by Iran. “President Obama, however, may find it difficult to accept such a demand as it will have serious repercussions that may go beyond the region,” said one such observer.
Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2015