WASHINGTON -- Gulf nation leaders met President Barack Obama at the White House yesterday to warn him of the risks of completing a nuclear deal with Iran. Obama was seeking to convince his counterparts of the potential benefits for the region.
But when two days of talks wrap up today, it's unlikely much will have changed. The Gulf region's skepticism of Iran is deep-seated and extends far beyond its nuclear pursuits. Obama, meanwhile, has invested too much in the Iran negotiations to let Gulf concerns upend his legacy-building bid for a deal.
"My guess is that the summit is going to leave everybody feeling a little bit unsatisfied," said Jon Alterman, the Middle East director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The White House is expected to offer the Gulf nations more military assistance, including increased joint exercises and coordination on ballistic missile systems. But requests for a formal defense treaty already have been denied, in part because getting Congress to approve one would be difficult.
Obama met separately yesterday with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and his deputy crown prince. King Salman had been expected, but the Saudis abruptly announced over the weekend that he was not going to Washington and would instead send the lower ranking but highly influential princes.
The president made no mention of Saudi skepticism of the Iran talks as he opened the meeting, but acknowledged the region is in the midst of a "very challenging time."
The White House and Saudi officials insist the king was not snubbing Obama. But Salman's conspicuous absence comes amid indisputable signs of strain in the long relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, driven not only by Obama's Iran overtures, but also the rise of Islamic State militants and a lessening U.S. dependency on Saudi oil.
Last night, Obama was hosting a White House dinner for the Saudi princes and representatives from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain.
The parties planned to spend today at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, discussing the nuclear talks and Tehran's reputed support of terrorism in the region.
The U.S. and five other nations are trying to reach an agreement with Iran by the end of June to curb its nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief from international economic sanctions. The Gulf nations fear that an influx of cash will only facilitate what they see as Iran's aggression.