President Obama Tries to Reassure Gulf Allies Over Iran Deal and Security

Obama Gulf LeadersPresident Barack Obama met with leaders of Gulf nations at Camp David on Thursday in an effort to offer reassurance of American commitment to regional security.

“I was very explicit the U.S. will stand by (Gulf nation) partners against external attack and will deepen cooperation we have for many challenges in the region,” the president told reporters on Thursday.

The conversations were also an opportunity to stress to leaders from such countries as Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally, that a nuclear deal with Iran is the best way to help shore up security in the region. As the U.S. and five other world powers work to craft a tenuous framework with Iran to keep it from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting some sanctions, Gulf nations have worried that Iran might feel empowered and become an even greater regional threat.

“Here at Camp David, we agreed that a comprehensive, verifiable solution that fully addresses the region’s and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear problem is in the security interests of the international community, including our (Gulf nation) partners,” Obama said during a press conference Thursday.

Even as the president and leaders discussed paths to peace at Camp David, a rural Maryland setting, Iranian gunboats shot at a Singapore-flagged tanker on Thursday as it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. officials said.

Five gunboats, believed to be from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, ordered the tanker Alpine Eternity to halt, the officials said. When the crew refused, the gunboats fired across the bow, the officials said.

When the tanker still refused and sped up instead, the gunboats shot directly at the stern in an apparent attempt to disable the propellers, the officials said. When that failed, the Iranians asked for help from United Arab Emirates warships in the area.

“This is exactly type of challenge” the president and leaders of Gulf nations are focused on, Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters.

The U.S. House passed legislation Thursday allowing Congress to review the Iran nuclear deal. The Senate passed the measure last week.

This legislation will now head to the White House which has signaled President Obama would sign the measure.

At the Camp David summit, Gulf nation leaders and the president discussed crises in Syria and Yemen and continued commitment to fighting ISIS. The gathering also talked about ways to extend U.S. military support beyond offering military assistance but also offering help on cyber, maritime and border security issues.

“I was struck by fact that they are thinking in practical terms,” Rhodes said.

The gulf countries have been seeking a more significant upgrade of their security alliance than the U.S. is willing to confer, despite the planned U.S. boost to arms, training and other security measures.

The GCC foreign ministers met Tuesday night and agreed that, though they weren’t getting everything they wanted from the U.S., they are going to build on what they are getting. They want this to be the first of a regular summit, with the next one in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, next year.

Obama, speaking Thursday, said he had committed to attending a future GCC summit, though didn’t specify where.

Still, the lack of participation by GCC leaders has been widely perceived as a sign that many of its members are displeased with what the U.S. is offering and want to convey displeasure at various administration policies, including talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

Only the leaders of Qatar and Kuwait attended, with the king of Saudi Arabia canceling at the last minute and Bahrain’s king attending the Royal Windsor Horse Show outside London. While there, he is expected to meet with Queen Elizabeth II.

Both U.S. administration officials and Saudi government aides said there was no snub intended by Saudi King Salman’s withdrawal of his RSVP over the weekend.

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