Saudi King Salman delegates Crown Prince to Gulf-US summit at Camp David

Published May 11th, 2015 - 03:00 GMT

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has pulled out of a summit planned for later this week between US President Barack Obama and Gulf leaders, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced Sunday.

The king has instead delegated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef to head the Saudi delegation to the two days of meetings at the White House and Camp David, al-Jubeir said.

Bin Nayef, who is also interior minister and has handled terrorism issues in the past, is thought to be on good terms with Washington.

Salman had also been due hold bilateral talks with Obama Wednesday ahead of the start of talks with the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders.

Al-Jubair linked the change of plan to developments in Yemen, noting that the summit would coincide with a 5-day humanitarian truce announced by a Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen's Houthi rebels.

Analyst Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute last week wrote that the king's advanced age - he is thought to be about 79 and in ailing health - might prevent him attending.

Other analysts have noted apparent disagreement between the US and Saudi Arabia over their approaches to the Yemen and Syria crises.

The US is reported to be concerned over the extent of the Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen, which humanitarian organizations have warned are feeding into a potential catastrophe due to lack of food and fuel.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said last week that while the US continues to understand Saudi Arabia's legitimate security concerns, "we believe that it's time for all sides to pursue the kind of inclusive political dialogue that's necessary to try to resolve these differences peacefully."

However a senior US official said the decision of Salman not to attend was not in response to any substantive issue.

"We look forward to the attendance of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, with whom the president has met on several occasions, including in the Oval Office in December 2014 and January 2013, as well as Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the president met when he travelled to Riyadh in January," a White House official said.

In Syria, meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar - apparently frustrated by limited US support for the opposition - are thought to be ramping up aid to rebel forces that have formed battlefield alliances with the local branch of al-Qaeda.

Obama is due to meet leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the White House on Wednesday, ahead of a summit at the presidential retreat at Camp David the following day.

The US president issued the invitation in April in an overture to reassure the Gulf countries, who feared that the recently concluded framework nuclear deal with Iran would embolden their main regional rival.


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