US President Barack Obama is hosting leadership from the Gulf Cooperation Council at his retreat in Camp David, in the woods of Maryland, hoping to sell skeptical Arab powers on the strength and durability of a US-backed deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
Arab powers seek written assurances after two years of negotiations with Iran produced a framework agreement last month allowing much of its nuclear infrastructure to remain in place. Arab leaders have threatened to match whatever nuclear capability Tehran is allowed to retain under a future comprehensive accord.
The American president sent out invitations to Gulf leaders shortly after the framework was announced in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 2. The focus of the summit, White House officials say, is to bolster and synthesize GCC defense structures in order to counter aggressive Iranian behavior across the region.
But Tehran's aggression was underscored on Thursday— just hours before the meeting began at the buttoned-down retreat— when Iranian ships opened fire on a Singapore-flagged ship crossing through international waters in the Gulf.
The Alpine Eternity, a 29,130 gross tonnes oil products tanker, has safely reached the UAE port of Jebel Ali after coming under attack in the Gulf, its manager said.
That aggressive behavior is precisely why a nuclear deal is so important, according to the Obama administration. They argue that a nuclear-armed Iran will only prove more assertive, and that such a scenario is the most likely alternative to a deal.
Obama flew to Camp David on Thursday morning on Marine One, accompanied by his national security adviser Susan Rice, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication Ben Rhodes and press secretary Josh Earnest.
Much of the president's national security council is present for the summit, including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, CIA director John Brennan, Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, considered the administration's "science man" on the framework deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
Representing the GCC is Saudi Arabia's interior minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and its defense minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; as well as the United Arab Emirates' Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Oman's Deputy Prime Minister Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said and Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
Two heads of state, the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait, are present for the rare meeting. The summit has been broken into three working sessions over six hours here at the presidential retreat, where President Obama last received foreign leaders during the G8 Summit in 2012.
Despite the famously informal setting of Camp David, designed to be a casual retreat for President Dwight Eisenhower, the US and GCC leaders were seated around a formal table, flanked by flags and aides.
The GCC seeks advanced weapons systems and contract offers, while the US seeks agreement on a broad structural defense design that would efficiently coordinate Gulf maritime, counterterrorism, air and anti-missile systems.
The Obama administration has long advocated for a missile defense system across the region, his aides point out. The summit is intended to expand the scope of US security guarantees to its Arab allies beyond that single portfolio.
The president is scheduled to hold a press conference at 5:00 pm local time to discuss what was achieved from the talks.
By Michael Wilner
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