Obama vows to 'stand by' Gulf allies

Written by  Reuters Friday, 15 May 2015 11:33

President Barack Obama vowed on Thursday to back Gulf allies against any "external attack," seeking to reassure them of Washington's iron-clad commitment to their security amid Arab anxiety over U.S.-led efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.

Hosting the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council for a rare summit at Camp David, Obama pledged that the United States would consider using military force to defend them and would also help counter Iran's "destabilizing activities in the region."

"I am reaffirming our iron-clad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners," Obama told a closing news conference at the presidential retreat outside Washington.

Obama stopped short of offering a formal defense treaty that some Gulf countries had sought. Instead he announced more modest measures, including integrating ballistic missile defense systems, beefing up cyber and maritime security, streamlining weapons sales and increasing joint military exercises.

The United States and five other world powers are seeking to reach a final deal with Iran on curbing its nuclear program by a June 30 deadline. The GCC agreed in a joint communique that a "comprehensive, verifiable" accord with Tehran would be in their security interests.

But Obama did not go as far as saying the Sunni Arab states had committed to backing the outcome of the talks with Iran, their Shi'ite arch-rival. The Saudi foreign minister made clear, in fact, that his government was withholding judgment for now.

Obama also sought to allay Gulf Arab concerns that the potential lifting of international sanctions on Tehran would embolden it to fuel more sectarian strife in the region.

Differences over U.S. policy toward Tehran, Syria’s civil war and the Arab Spring uprisings loomed over the meetings, which were already clouded by the absence of most of the Gulf’s ruling monarchs, who instead sent lower-level officials.

Saudi King Salman pulled out, sending Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his place in a move widely interpreted as a snub that reflected Gulf frustration with the Obama administration. The White House insisted that such decisions were not intended as slights.

OBAMA'S BALANCING ACT

The GCC consists of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Obama sought to strike a balance between trying to ease their fears about his diplomacy with Iran and squeezing the oil-rich states to work together more in their own defense.

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