President Barack Obama reaffirms US commitment to deter and confront aggression against Gulf Arab allies
United States President Barack Obama said after meeting with Gulf leaders to talk about the strained alliance, that the US will deter and confront Gulf Arab monarchies who continue to have concerns about threats from Iran.
"I reaffirmed the policy of the United States to use all elements of our power to secure our core interests in the Gulf region and to deter and confront external aggression against our allies and our partners," Obama said in Riyadh on Thursday after meeting the leaders at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit.
Obama added that all the leaders were committed to the fight against DAESH terrorists and also to de-escalating regional conflicts, and he also addressed the Gulf countries' concerns on Iran.
"Even with the nuclear deal we recognise collectively that we continue to have serious concerns about Iranian behaviour," he said.
The US president came to Saudi Arabia hoping to allay Gulf states' fears over Iranian influence and encourage them to douse secterian tensions in an attempt to confront the threat posed by militant or terrorist groups like DAESH.
Washington and its Gulf partners have worked together on shared concerns such as the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. However, they didn't deny that the strains have afflicted ties between the US and the GCC.
"What is true between the United States and the GCC, as is true with all of our allies and friends is that at any point of time there are going to be differences," Obama said.
Footage and photographs aired on Saudi state media showed the leaders at a large circular table under a chandelier, with Obama sitting with King Salman on his left and the Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahayan on his right.
Years of frustration among Gulf countries, aggravated by more recent stumbles, may have made Saudi Arabia and its regional allies less receptive to Obama on his fourth and most probably final trip to the kingdom.
Most of the GCC states have been bitterly disappointed in Obama's presidency, during which they believe the United States has pulled back from the region, giving more space to Iran.
They were also upset by Obama's remarks in a magazine interview that appeared to cast them as "free-riders" in US security efforts and urged them to "share" the region with Tehran.
"On the core issues, there's agreement about where we want to go," Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters at a briefing in Riyadh.
Rhodes added that the strains in ties reflected differences over tactics rather than goals.
"This summit allows us to align our approaches and strategies," he said.
‘Open and honest discussion'
Rhodes also states that the two-hour meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Wednesday was the longest that Obama and the king had shared and included a "very open and honest discussion" which included issues such as a source of tension, without specifying them.
"I think they both agreed that it was good to essentially have this opportunity to clear the air," he said.
Obama said that he wants Gulf allies to offer more democratic reforms and improve human rights and he discussed this with Salman on Wednesday.
Adding to tensions is a bill proposed in US Congress to lift Riyadh's immunity if any Saudi officials are found to have been involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Obama said that he opposes the bill because it could lead to cases directed against the United States in foreign courts.
The United States remains deeply enmeshed in Gulf security, cooperating closely with the monarchies to strengthen their armed forces and share intelligence aimed at countering militant or terrorist groups.
"The GCC countries have extensively cooperated with us on counter terrorism, curbing the financing of terrorist activities," Obama said after the summit.
All the Saudi newspapers published several pages of photographs of Obama's meetings with Salman and other princes.
In keeping with a noticeably low-key approach by Saudi Arabia's government, however, neither that photo opportunity, nor the GCC meeting's opening statements, were broadcast on live television, as has often been the case before.