May 14, 2015 is the date set for the summit at Camp David between U.S. President Barack Obama and heads of state of the member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, and Oman. A meeting at the White House with President Obama and the conferees is planned for the preceding day, May 13.
The objective of the Camp David summit, as announced several weeks ago, is to reassure the GCC countries about the nuclear agreement slated to be signed with Iran next month, as well as to discuss tighter U.S.-Gulf security cooperation. In advance of the summit, the GCC held several preparatory meetings at various diplomatic levels, including: an April 20 meeting of GCC foreign ministers; a May 4 summit of GCC heads of state which was attended also by French President Fran├ºois Hollande; a May 7 meeting in Riyadh of Saudi Foreign Minister 'Adel Al-Jubeir and his U.S. counterpart Secretary of State John Kerry; and a May 8 meeting in Paris of all the GCC foreign ministers and Kerry.
However, on May 9, Saudi Arabia announced that Saudi King Salman would not be at the Camp David summit as planned, and that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would be participating in his stead. Saudi Foreign Minister 'Adel Al-Jubeir explained that the monarch would not attend because he had to stay home to ensure peace and security in Yemen and to oversee the arrival of humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people.
Later, it was reported that the Bahraini king, the UAE president, and the Sultan of Oman would also not be attending the summit, sending representatives instead. As of this writing, the Emirs of Kuwait and Qatar are the only GCC heads of state who are planning to attend.
The downgrade of the level of representation at the summit appears to constitute a message to the U.S. that Saudi Arabia and the other GCC member countries were not pleased with the preliminary talks with Secretary of State Kerry, and also that they were disappointed at what the summit would achieve. According to a May 2, 2015 New York Times report, the Saudis had even then hinted that they would downgrade their representation if they felt that the summit was not going to produce results that conformed to their expectations.
In fact, Arab press reports that preceded the announcement of downgraded representation pointed to what the GCC countries were demanding from the U.S., as well as to dissatisfaction on their part. At the May 4 summit of GCC heads of state with Hollande, Saudi King Salman called on the international community, especially the P5+1 that is negotiating with Iran, to "set stricter rules that guarantee the region's security and prevent it from plunging into an arms race." The king also stipulated that any final agreement with Iran must include unambiguous security guarantees. Additionally, on May 7, UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba announced that the GCC would demand from the U.S. guarantees in writing that the latter would defend it from Iran. Likewise, on May 9, the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat reported that even at the May 8 meeting with Kerry, the GCC foreign ministers had demanded U.S. guarantees that their countries would have military superiority over Iran.
Elaph.com also reported, on May 9, that the Gulf heads of state, headed by the Saudi monarch, would not settle for aid, military contracts, and defense systems provided by the U.S., but that they were seeking "clear, honest, and practical clarification, by means of absolutely firm, long-term resolutions, that Iran would be prevented from actualizing its expansionist aspirations in the region and from developing nuclear weaponsÔÇª" Elaph also reported that "the Gulf leaders are headed for confrontation with the American president, and they want answers and explanations about his positions on these burning issuesÔÇª"
On May 12, three days after the Saudis announced that King Salman would not be attending the summit, it was reported that President Obama and King Salman had spoken by phone about the preparations for the summit, and had discussed the agenda of the meetings that would take place during it. Both the White House, in an announcement, and Saudi Foreign Minister 'Adel Al-Jubeir, at a press conference, emphasized the continuing Saudi-U.S. partnership. According to the White House announcement, Obama and Salman had, in their phone conversation, "reviewed the agenda for the upcoming meetings" and had "agreed on the necessity of working closely, along with other GCC member states, to build a collective capacity to address more effectively the range of threats facing the region and to resolve regional conflicts." The two also discussed "the importance of a comprehensive agreement between the P5+1 and Iran that verifiably ensures the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program" and "emphasized the strength of the two countries' partnership, based on their shared interest and commitment to the stability and prosperity of the region, and agreed to continue... close consultations on a wide range of issues." Also, at a Washington press conference, the Saudi foreign minister stressed that King Salman's "absence from the summit is not in any way connected to any disagreement between the two countries," adding, "We have no doubts about the U.S.'s commitment to Saudi and Gulf security. The U.S. will present the Gulf countries with a new level of cooperation that will meet the needs on the ground."
At the same time, the Saudi press published numerous articles, including op-eds and editorials, fiercely attacking the Obama administration's Middle East policy, stating that it had repeatedly disappointed the Arab countries, in its positions on Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran. The articles accused the Obama administration of reinforcing Iran's power in the region - so much so that it was now threatening GCC interests - and claimed that it was not the Iranian nuclear bomb but Iran's imperialism in the region and Iran's interference in the affairs of the Arab countries that was the "real bomb threatening [the Arab countries'] security," and called on the U.S. to curb these. These articles focused on the demands that the GCC countries would be presenting to Obama at the summit, including that he change his policy towards Iran and "restore the regional balance," while at the same time he would undertake unprecedented security military cooperation with the GCC. The articles emphasized that "the Gulf countries no longer believe the U.S.'s promises and guarantees," and that they would now demand guarantees in writing. Some of the articles even warned that U.S.-GCC relations were now at a point of a grave, even critical crisis of confidence, and that the Camp David summit was a chance for the U.S. to prevent the collapse of its alliance with the GCC. If this alliance did fall apart, they said, U.S. interests in the region would suffer, and the smoldering regional conflict would erupt into a conflagration.
Below are translated excerpts from some of the articles:
GCC logo against backdrop of photo of Camp David sign. Source: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, May 12, 2015)
'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat' Editor: The Dissolution Of The U.S.-Gulf Alliance Will Harm U.S. Interests In The Region
Salman Al-Dosari, editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, argued that the mutual trust between the US and the Gulf states had eroded to an extent that jeopardizes the alliance between them: "The upcoming Camp David summit may be the most important Gulf-U.S. meeting to take place in 50 years, [because] the U.S.-Gulf alliance is going through a phase of tension and a crisis of confidenceÔÇª Washington is aware of this and it is no secret. Who knows, perhaps the summit will be an opportunity to put the train of this historic alliance back on the track from which it slipped in recent years. The summit will be an opportunity for the American administration to shift from talk to action, and quell the doubts in the region regarding its credibility, that has been put to the test [by a series of events,] starting with the Syrian crisis, continuing with [America's]feeble position on the events in Bahrain, Egypt and Iraq, and culminating in the nebulous and secret agreement that is expected to be signed with IranÔÇª
"All [U.S.] institutions are aware of the negative repercussions for American interests that will ensue if the alliance with the Gulf States is dissolved. Naturally, the two parties do not have to be [perfectly] coordinated in their policies. However, it is unreasonable for U.S. policy to threaten the interests of the Gulf States, and later we [are bound to] discover that U.S. interests in the region have been harmed as well. This proves that Washington's policy in the region is completely misguided...
"President Obama undoubtedly has a clear plan that will translate American talk into action, as reflected in statements by a senior American official last Thursday, published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, regarding 'unprecedented military cooperation' that will be revealed at the Camp David summit. It is also important that the U.S. give [the Gulf States] its assurances in writingÔÇª Only by such actions can the U.S. restore the cordiality to its relations with the Gulf States and truly demonstrate that the final nuclear agreement expected to be signed [with Iran] will not include ambiguous meanings and unclear details.
"The US wants to kill two birds with one stone, [namely achieve] excellent relations with the Gulf States and with Iran simultaneously. This equation is unacceptable, not because the Gulf States hate [Iran], but because the Iranian regime is predicated on hostility to its neighbors in the Arabian Gulf, and its entire policy is geared towards intervening in their internal affairs. This is the entire story, honorable President Barack Obama."
Al-Hayat Editor: U.S. Hesitation At Camp David Will Cause The Regional Conflict To Erupt
Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, wrote: "The U.S. is not interested in playing the role of the Middle East's policeman. It does not wish to squander additional billions [of dollars] and blood. However, it certainly cannot wash its hands of the fate of this region of the world - not just because [it seeks to preserve] the security of oil and of Israel, but also for the sake of the security of the U.S. and the West. Experience teaches us that Middle East diseases are contagious, and that the terrorism that is taking root there threatens the safety of New York, Washington, Paris, Berlin, and so on.
"It would be no exaggeration to say that the U.S.-Gulf summit at Camp David creates an unusual encounter that will leave its mark on the fate of the Middle East for years or [even] decades to come. The summit demands more than just dispersing [messages of] reconciliation and calm [to alleviate Gulf fears]. The situation is too grave to be treated with painkillers and hopes. The framework of a new regional order must be outlined; [such an order] must restore the necessary balance and provide safety valves to stop the chain of collapses, coups, and infiltrations [of foreign elements]. It is clear that the Iranian specter will be at the summit, bearing two bombs [that is, both nuclear bomb and the bomb represented by the regional role that Iran is seeking]...
"The problem that the GCC countries have with Iran does not end with Iran's nuclear program. The GCC countries maintain that Iran's current interference... is the real bomb threatening the security of the GCC countries, and [also] threatening the stability and status of the Arabs in the region. Therefore, what the Gulf is demanding at Camp David is measures to curb Iran's involvement in the region, in addition to curbing its nuclear ambitions...
"It appears, therefore, that the Camp David summit must clarify the American position vis-├á-vis the two Iranian 'bombs' - the first being the nuclear program, and the second being the regional role [that Iran covets]. The GCC is against the view that an agreement concerning the first bomb is a character reference providing it with what it needs in order to protect and expand the second bomb. This goes beyond the issue of missile defense [to be provided by the U.S. to] the Gulf countries, and beyond providing it with a deterrent arsenal, and has to do with the U.S.'s perception regarding its own interests in the next stage, how committed it is to its allies, and how serious it is in thwarting Iran's takeover of the region - as well as how [willing] it is to give [the Gulf countries] unequivocal [security] guarantees.
"It is impossible to establish a suitable regional order without first restoring balance to the region. The bomb of [the regional] role [for which Iran strives] contradicts the required balance, and the American hesitation to deal with it [i.e. with Iran] decisively and seriously will diminish the importance of the summit and increase the Gulf countries' apprehensions about Obama's 'Iran policy.' American hesitation will also cause the regional conflict to erupt, especially the Syrian link [in the chain]... That is, if the Camp David summit does not address these two bombs, it will add fuel to the alarming Middle East conflagration."
'All-Hayat' Columnist: We No Longer Believe Obama's Promises; Saudi Arabia Has Alternatives To The U.S. - Such As China And France
George Sama'an, a columnist for the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, wrote about the U.S. president's dilemma, under the headline "Obama Stuck Between Losing Saudi Arabia and Stopping Iran's Expansion": "Iran. There is no other issue but Iran on the agenda of the U.S.-Gulf summit set for this week in Washington and Camp David. The [Iranian] nuclear program has worried, and continues to worry, the members of the GCC. In their meetings in Paris with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the GCC foreign ministers did not focus on technical clarifications related to the program nor on those related to the mechanism of economic sanctions. What they fear is the day after the anticipated agreement between Iran and the five superpowers and Germany.
"Like many who oppose the approach of the American dialogue [with Iran], they fear Iran's getting its hands on the region. [Iran] could gain from the lifting of the siege and of the sanctions on its frozen assets by continuing its regional expansionist program. Despite its [economic] distress, Iran has accelerated this expansionism, with brazen persistence. Its strategy relies on two main elements: the advanced, developed, and extensive arsenal of missiles in its possession, which are conventional weapons that are not subject to an international ban such as nuclear energy, and on continuing its expansion using its Shi'ite forces and militias in several Arab countries...
"The Gulf states are among the countries that no longer believe the promises and guarantees that the U.S. is providing these days. Obama has not kept any of the promises he made to the residents of the region since his speeches in Egypt and Turkey... The American indifference regarding the events in Iraq, for instance, left that country in Iran's hands, and this scenario has been repeated in all the countries of the Levant [i.e. Syria and Lebanon]. The Obama administration has made no serious attempts to arrive at an arrangement [to resolve] the Syria crisis, leaving that country in [the hands of] Tehran and Moscow... [Obama] also kept out of the events in Yemen prior to [Operation] Decisive Storm...
"[The U.S.'s] partners did not have the sense that it wanted to end Iran's lack of restraint and expansionism in the region, even if it led to damage to several Arab countries and their national unity. It [i.e. the U.S.] also did not do enough to address the conventional missile industry, at which Iran excels, possibly as a temporary substitute for the banned nuclear bomb...
"Today, the strategic arena is no longer solely in the hands of the U.S. and Iran. Arabs have a say and a policy [in them,] following Saudi Arabia's establishment of the new coalition... No matter how far overboard the U.S. goes in relying on its future relations with Iran and on [Iran's] role in the stability of the region, it can no longer ignore the positions of the residents of the Gulf, headed by Saudi Arabia - which has proven itself as the central player with regard to energy... Operation Decisive Storm has increased the Saudis' ability to correct the imbalance in the power balance with Iran...
"In light of the changes in the regional and strategic arenas, it is not enough for President Obama to provide guarantees or attempt to calm the situation, to make do with talk about ABM [systems] for the Gulf as he did five years ago, or to focus on the war on terror. What [he] must do [now] is take an active role in a policy that will restore the balance among the region's major powers, and reexamine his policy in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon. Will he do this, and grow closer to the U.S.'s traditional partners instead of pushing them away?
"The Arab coalition will not stop. Many elements that could replace the U.S., from China to France, should be considered. [Likewise,] the Gulf states might possibly decide to initiate an arms race, for which they have the suitable economic capacities."
In the same vein, Saudi columnist Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh wrote, in the Saudi Al-Jazirah daily: "Last Tuesday in Riyadh, a GCC consultation summit was held, led by King Salman; during it, the countries stressed the unity, adherence, and solidarity amongst them... At this summit, the participation of French President Hollande, as a guest of honor, stood out. It constituted a clear and highly significant message to the American president, Obama, who has been chasing down the Persian ayatollahs to get them to sign a final agreement regarding the peacefulness of the Iranian nuclear facilities and to remove the sanctions from them.
"The message [sent by Hollande's presence] said clearly to Obama, prior to the summit with the Gulf heads of state at Camp David: 'Gulf residents, there are other options. You are not alone in the arena. France is an independent decision-maker, as Francophones tend to be. France is a world power, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with a veto, and a major and advanced manufacturer of developed weaponry. And, some of the armament agreements and military deals of the Gulf countries are going to be [signed] with it.'
"This is an extremely clear message, and the [U.S.] Republican Party will necessarily use it against the Democrats, particularly in the upcoming presidential election campaign between the two parties."
 Alarabiya.net April 3, 2015, April 6, 2015.
 Alarabiya.net, May 10, 2015.
 Nytimes.com, May 2, 2015.
 Arabnews.com, May 5, 2015.
 Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), May 7, 2015.
 Al-Hayat (London), May 9, 2015.
 Elaph.com, May 9, 2015.
 Alarabiya.net; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 12, 2015.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 12, 2015; Whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/05/11/readout-president-s-call-king-salman-bin-abdulaziz-al-saud-saudi-arabia. May 11, 2015.
 Telegraph (London) May 12, 2015; Usatoday.com, May 11, 2015; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London) May 12, 2015.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 11, 2015.
 Al-Hayat (London), May 11, 2015.
 Al-Hayat (London), May 11, 2015.
 Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia) May 10, 2015.