The White House has abandoned efforts to arrange a summit with Gulf Arab leaders during President Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia next week because of divisions with the group of regional U.S. allies, Obama’s top national security aide said on Friday.
Obama will go ahead with his scheduled talks with Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh next Friday, at the end of a trip to Europe that is expected to be dominated by the Ukraine crisis.
In an unprecedented move within the Gulf Cooperation Council of allied monarchies, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar on March 5.
The three GCC states are infuriated by Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement they see as a dangerous political enemy in their countries as well as in Egypt. They are also angry over Doha’s backing for more radical Islamist groups in Syria.
Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, said the White House weeks ago had considered holding a GCC summit in Riyadh and began “preliminary consultations” but then abandoned the idea.
“The situation between and among the members of the GCC has grown more complex of late,” she told reporters at a briefing to preview Obama’s trip. “And while we maintain very strong and cooperative relationships with each of the GCC countries, we didn’t think that from their point of view that the time was optimal for a collective meeting.”
Failure to go ahead with the regional meeting, which had been widely anticipated, further complicates the Obama administration’s efforts to reassure Gulf allies about U.S.-led nuclear diplomacy with Iran and narrow their differences with the United States over how to respond to Syria’s civil war.
Obama is expected to use his talks with the Saudi king to try to mend relations with Riyadh, the world’s top oil exporter and a longtime U.S. ally in the region.
U.S. officials have made clear they would prefer to see Gulf partners reconciled but Rice stopped short of saying Washington would try to mediate among the group.
She said, however, that Obama’s talks with the Saudi king and his meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates at a nuclear security conference in The Hague next week “will inform our efforts to encourage the continued cooperation among those partners in the GCC.”