President Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter are due to visit Saudi Arabia next week, for talks about the Islamic State, Iran, and other threats to regional security.
Reuters quotes Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes saying the talks will be about enhancing the Gulf states’ ability to “confront asymmetric threats” — i.e. terrorism — rather than major sales of defense systems. Another White House adviser mentioned defense against cyber-warfare as a topic of discussion.
Also on the docket will be discussions with Saudi King Salman and the other Gulf leaders for “dealing with economic issues in an era of low oil prices,” which will probably include encouragement for the oil states to come up with a better agreement to shore up prices than the “disappointing” results CNBC expects from the much-hyped oil summit in Doha, Qatar, this weekend. Hopes for a production freeze after this meeting have been high enough to drag oil prices way up, but if the outcome is as underwhelming as anticipated, the oil crisis is likely to pick up roughly where it left off in February.
Rhodes also told reporters in a conference call that President Obama was standing by his comments about “free riders” who do not “carry their weight” in security matters, which everyone from European heads of state to Gulf monarchs took as an insult. Rhodes restated the president’s position that “the only way to truly deal with global challenges is if everybody does their part.”
The Brookings Institution ticks off some more issues that might come up between President Obama and the Saudis, including what the Saudis see as Obama knuckling under to Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu on the Palestinian problem, Obama supporting political reforms for the Shiite majority in Sunni Bahrain that Riyadh felt moved to suppress with armored personnel carriers, and Obama’s abandonment of Saudi-backed Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
The Saudis are not thrilled with President Obama’s handling of the new Egyptian government either, since his administration has been hostile to a coup by General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi which the Saudis literally endorsed in five minutes flat.
The Brookings Institution nevertheless argues the importance of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia resolving their differences and working together on such common interests as resolving the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars, curtailing Iran’s regional influence, and fighting international terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Qaeda.
“Obama will meet with King Salman in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and attend a summit with other leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Thursday. Carter will meet his counterparts just before the summit, on Wednesday,” Reuters reports.
The Associated Press points out this summit will be similar in constitution to a “gathering that Obama hosted with the Gulf leaders last year at the Camp David presidential retreat,” intended largely to “reassure Gulf leaders who were unnerved by a deal the U.S. and other world powers negotiated with Iran to ease economic sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.”