Saudi king's US absence signals discontent with Iran policy

Saudi king's US absence signals discontent with Iran policy
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

RIYADH - Discontent with American policy toward Iran is behind the last-minute pullout by Saudi King Salman from a summit with US President Barack Obama this week, analysts say.

Obama invited Salman along with five other Gulf rulers to the White House on Wednesday followed by a retreat the following day at Camp David.

He hopes to shore up wavering trust while Washington tries to reach a deal to curb the nuclear programme of Shiite Iran, the regional rival to Sunni-dominated Gulf monarchies.

Only the leaders of Kuwait and Qatar will now likely attend the summit, indicating "a lack of consideration, a disagreement and a lack of respect for President Barack Obama," said Abdelkhaleq Abdallah, an analyst from the United Arab Emirates.

Abdallah said "the differences of opinion seem profound" over Iran, which the Gulf states see as a source of regional instability that would increase after the signing of a proposed nuclear accord.

A framework agreement between Iran and the United States, France and other major powers, currently being finalised, limits Tehran's nuclear capabilities in return for the lifting of crippling international sanctions.

The White House, which hoped the summit would ease the Gulf's deep unease over talks with Iran, said Monday that Salman had called Obama to "express his regret at not being able to travel to Washington".

"The two leaders emphasised the strength of the two countries' partnership, based on their shared interest and commitment to the stability and prosperity of the region," the White House said.

Saudi seeks 'clearer commitment'

In place of Salman, Saudi Arabia is dispatching two powerful figures, Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef and Salman's son, Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman.

"You don't usually send two of the most senior people you have to deliver a snub," said Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

But by "downgrading" the delegation, the kingdom was "attempting to put pressure on the US," he said.

"It's a sign that Saudi Arabia would like to see a clearer US strategic commitment to the defence of the Gulf, and clearer signs about how the US intends to deal with Iran."

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Monday insisted Salman's absence was not a snub.

"This is not related in any way, shape or form to any disagreement between the two countries," he said in Washington.

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