WHITE HOUSE— President Barack Obama willhost a summit next week of the six Sunni-ledmember states of the Gulf Cooperation Councilthat is expected to focus on the Iran nucleardeal and Tehran’s involvement in conflicts fromYemen to Syria.
For leaders of the Gulf countries, scenes of Iranian-supported Houthi rebels overrunningYemen’s capital, Sana'a, and driving out its U.S.-backed government this year were a sign ofthe rising threat from Iran, and they come to the summit seeking reassurances of U.S.backing.
Obama’s argument is that negotiating a nuclear arrangement with Iran will, by itself, meansecurity for them.
“I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final, comprehensive deal, it will make ourcountry, our allies and our world safer,” he said.
But America’s partners in the Persian Gulf region are not so sure. Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates' ambassador to the United States, said Gulf leaderswant to upgrade their security relations with Washington.
"We are looking for some form of security guarantee, given the behavior of Iran in the region[and] given the rise of the extremist threat," he said. "We definitely want a strongerrelationship. In the past, we have survived with a gentlemen’s agreement with the United Statesabout security. I think today we need something in writing; we need somethinginstitutionalized.”
While no treaty will be signed, Obama does plan to talk with the Gulf leaders about building uptheir defense capabilities. It’s expected there will be some movement on speeding up weaponssales, setting up a regional defense system against Iranian missiles and planning jointmilitary exercises.
But Obama said in an interview with The New York Times last month that the Sunni-ledmonarchies in the Gulf also must take into account another threat: the danger posed by someof their own people who are stifled by a lack of political outlets for their grievances. Obama saidthe biggest threat facing the Gulf Cooperation Council members may not be from Iran, butfrom internal dissatisfaction.
Obama’s criticism of the Gulf leaders' domestic policies, coupled with his outreach to Iran, hasfueled their distrust.
So for the president, it is now important to make a visible show of support. Along with adinner at the White House, the leaders will meet at Camp David, the presidential retreat in amountain park outside Washington that traditionally has been used for intimate and historicallyimportant gatherings.
Derek Chollet, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, said that for Obama to be with theGulf leaders at Camp David "has a special symbolism here in the United States and around theworld. So it’s an important symbol of our commitment to the region.”
The United States maintains 35,000 troops in the Gulf region and, like the Gulf nations, wantsto stem Iran’s destabilizing actions there. While no one expects this week's summit to resolveall distrust and disagreements, there is hope it will be a first step toward rebuilding confidencein the partnership.