Obama vows to keep Arab allies secure amid Iran deal fears

May 15, 2015, 12:48 AM
President Barack Obama, center, bids farewell to from left., Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed...
President Barack Obama, center, bids farewell to from left., Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan; Bahrain Crown Prince Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalif and Deputy Prime Minister of Oman, Sayyid Fahad Bin Mahmood Al Said after their meetings at Camp David in Maryland, Thursday, May 14, 2015. Obama and leaders from six Gulf nations are trying to work through tensions sparked by the U.S. bid for a nuclear deal with Iran, a pursuit that has put regional partners on edge. Obama is seeking to reassure the Gulf leaders that the U.S. overtures to Iran will not come at the expense of commitments to their security. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Charging toward an Iran nuclear agreement, President Barack Obama is assuring Arab allies that they are safe from the threat of an empowered Tehran as he seeks to shore up some of America’s most critical security partnerships. However, Obama’s claim of winning Arab support for his nuclear diplomacy appears far from certain.

After a rare Camp David summit, the president on Thursday pledged Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to the Sunni governments of the Persian Gulf and even spoke of authorizing U.S. military force if their security is endangered by Shiite Iran or anyone else. The United States, he vowed, will “use all elements of power to secure our core interests in the Gulf region, and to deter and confront external aggression against our allies and partners.”

Obama invoked the start of a “new era of cooperation” that would last for decades to come, even as Saudi Arabia and others in the region are deeply unnerved by the prospect of an accord with Iran that would impose a decade-long freeze on its nuclear program and potentially provide it tens of billions of dollars’ worth of relief from international sanctions. The Sunni governments came to Washington looking for assurances that Obama would pair his diplomatic effort with a broader strategy to push back against Iran’s expanding influence in the Middle East.

The U.S. and other world powers hope to clinch a final nuclear deal with Iran by the end of June. This week’s talks with top officials from the kingdoms of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were announced by Obama on April 2, when a framework with the Iranians was sealed.

Washington has long provided military support to its Gulf partners, most famously by invading Iraq in 1991 after its takeover of Kuwait. But like another U.S. ally, Israel, the Arabs fear a negotiated end to the Iran nuclear standoff would serve to enrich and empower a government already keeping Syrian President Bashar Assad in power, fueling Yemen’s rebellion, intimidating opponents in Iraq and Lebanon and meddling in the affairs of others through the region.

Obama on Thursday pledged to take their partnership to another level with greater cooperation on everything from ballistic missile defense, maritime security and cybersecurity to joint military exercises and training. Counterterrorism coordination will tighten to stem the flow of foreign fighters to terrorist groups, protect vulnerable infrastructure and halt terror financing, he said. In a joint statement, the countries vowed to address regional challenges including Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.

The sensitivities of the Arabs, and Israel for that matter, are part of the compendium of challenges facing Obama as he tries to finalize an agreement he believes could stabilize a part of the world beset by terrorism, sectarian rivalry and weak governance — and which would be his crowning foreign policy achievement.

Obama’s biggest test may come from home. Congress on Thursday sent Obama a bill enabling lawmakers to hold an up-or-down vote on an Iran deal, after House Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly approved the measure. The vote was 400-25; the Senate voted in favor 98-1 last week. Obama will sign it into law, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

At the summit-closing news conference, Obama said Gulf leaders hadn’t been asked to “sign on the bottom line” to approve a work in process. They agreed, he said, “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, including our GCC partners.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, one of the attendees, was more circumspect.

Arab leaders were “assured that the objective is to deny Iran the ability to obtain a nuclear weapon,” al-Jubeir said, but he added: “It would be too early to prejudge what we accept, what we don’t accept.”

Obama rarely uses Camp David for personal or official business and White House aides hoped the more intimate setting would foster candid conversation. But just two other heads of state — the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait — attended. The others sent lower-level, though still influential, representatives.

The most notable absence was Saudi King Salman, who announced over the weekend he was skipping the event only two days after the White House announced his attendance. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman represented Saudi Arabia instead.

The most embarrassing absence, for the U.S., was Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. He rejected the summit for a horse show in Britain and meeting with Queen Elizabeth II.

The White House and Saudi officials insisted the king was not snubbing Obama. But there are indisputable strains in the relationship, driven not only by Obama’s Iran overtures but also the rise of Islamic State militants and a lessening U.S. dependency on Saudi oil.

For months, the U.S. has been trying to build Arab support for the nuclear deal. Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, State Department nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman, and the Treasury Department’s sanctions point-man Adam Szubin delivered a full-court press to Gulf foreign ministers in Paris last week, hoping to convince them all pathways to a bomb would be cut off and that sanctions could be quickly re-imposed if Iran cheats.

With Tehran set to reap significant economic relief, the Saudis and others are pointing to Yemen’s civil war as a possible unintended consequence of a deal. They accuse Iran of backing and even directing the Houthi rebels who’ve taken over much of Yemen, and say greater financial power would enable Tehran to sow greater chaos in the region.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

World News

A fisherman watches smoke rise after Russian forces launched a missile attack on a military unit in...
Associated Press

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters hit by drone strike

An explosive device carried by a makeshift drone blew up Sunday at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on the Crimean Peninsula.
15 days ago
Medical syringes are seen with 'Monkeypox' sign displayed on a screen in the backgound in this illu...
Associated Press

Monkeypox declared a global emergency by UN health agency

The expanding monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries is an “extraordinary” situation that qualifies as a global emergency.
23 days ago
Chinese paramilitary policemen march in front of the Japanese embassy where the Japanese flag is fl...
Associated Press

Japan’s ex-leader Shinzo Abe assassinated during a speech

TOKYO (AP) — Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated Friday on a street in western Japan by a gunman who opened fire on him from behind as he delivered a campaign speech — an attack that stunned a nation with some of the strictest gun control laws anywhere. The 67-year-old Abe, who was Japan’s […]
1 month ago
Firefighters hose down a burning car after a strike hit a residential area, in Kramatorsk, Donetsk ...
Associated Press

Russia taking ‘operational pause’ in Ukraine, analysts say

Analysts say Russia may be taking an "operational pause" in eastern Ukraine to reassemble forces for a significant offensive.
1 month ago
Prime Minister Boris Johnson enters 10 Downing Street, after reading a statement in London, Thursda...
Associated Press

One scandal too many: British PM Boris Johnson resigns

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation Thursday after droves of top government officials quit over the latest scandal to engulf him, marking an end to three tumultuous years in which he tried to bluster his way through one ethical lapse after another. Months of defiance ended almost with a shrug as […]
1 month ago
Ukrainian servicemen carry the coffin with the remains of Army Col. Oleksander Makhachek during a f...
Associated Press

As Ukraine loses troops, how long can it keep up the fight?

ZHYTOMYR (AP) — As soon as they had finished burying a veteran colonel killed by Russian shelling, the cemetery workers readied the next hole. Inevitably, given how quickly death is felling Ukrainian troops on the front lines, the empty grave won’t stay that way for long. Col. Oleksandr Makhachek left behind a widow, Elena, and […]
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
Obama vows to keep Arab allies secure amid Iran deal fears