Gulf states’ passive aggressive attitude toward Obama unlikely to pay off

Published May 12th, 2015 - 09:18 GMT
Saudi King Salman meets with US President Barack Obama at the Erga Palace in Riyadh on Jan. 27, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
Saudi King Salman meets with US President Barack Obama at the Erga Palace in Riyadh on Jan. 27, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Saudi King Salman and most of the other Gulf state leaders are not going to show up for the Camp David summit on Thursday in what is being described as a snub because of the Obama administration’s outreach to Shi’ite rival Iran.

Gulf leaders have a tendency of showing their displeasure passive-aggressively toward the US – indirectly through their state owned media or by other individuals close to their regimes that are quoted in the Western press.

This comes in contrast to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of his government that have come out vocally, directly criticizing US President Barack Obama administration’s policy on Iran and the recently signed nuclear framework agreement.

Yet, in other ways, Netanyahu has gone out of his way to be diplomatic with the Obama administration, never rejecting an invitation and making a point to commend the US for its ongoing support.

Still, manifestations of Saudi and Israeli unhappiness with US policy toward Iran have not brought about any major changes in its strategy, but mainly rhetorical support and pledges for more military aid.

Riyadh announced the monarch’s no-show on Sunday, only two days after the White House had said he would attend the summit of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

Some diplomats in the region believe the absence from Camp David of King Salman and close ally King Hamad of Bahrain, host of the US Fifth Fleet, may backfire.

A Saudi decision in 2013 to vacate a seat on the United Nations Security Council that it had spent years seeking, followed by a leak of angry comments about Washington by then spy chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, failed to change US policy.

“Of course it [Salman’s non-appearance] is a snub. But I don’t think Obama is going to put up with this. He wants the nuclear deal. It is the number one priority,” said a Western diplomat based in the region.

The no-show by so many leaders is “certainly a slight and may affect what they get,” David Andrew Weinberg, a specialist on Gulf affairs and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

He emphasized, however, that the Saudi decision likely indicates that they already were disappointed with what Washington was putting on the table.

The GCC states are definitely going to be getting more arms since this is part of the Obama administration’s strategy of seeking to balance off its rapprochement with Iran, said Weinberg.

“The word on the street is that something occurred over the last few days that disappointed the Saudi king and led to his cancellation,” he said.

The Bahraini king’s decision to stay home, which was also announced on Sunday, bolsters this impression, Weinberg added.

However, when asked about how Gulf behavior differs from that of Netanyahu, Weinberg said that the Gulf states for the most part resisted the Iranian framework agreement behind closed doors while the Israelis criticized it directly.

Reuters contributed to this report.

By Ariel Ben Solomon

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