Saudi King Cancels Meeting With Obama on Iran Deal

Arab officials say Salman doesn't like U.S. 'compensation' offer; announcement comes after White House announced he was coming.

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Obama meets with King Salman in Riyadh (Reuters)
Saudi Arabia's King Salman, right, meets with U.S. President Barack Obama at Erga Palace in Riyadh, January 27, 2015. Credit: Reuters

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has announced he will not come to America this week to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama – a sign, according to Arab officials, of the king's disappointment with the U.S. offer of "compensation" for the emerging nuclear deal with Iran, The New York Times reports.

Salman's announcement on Sunday came two days after the White House had announced he would indeed meet with Obama at Camp David and the White House for talks on the Iran deal. Instead, the king will send his interior and defense ministers to the meetings, where they will be joined by top officials of other Gulf states who are also wary of the nuclear treaty taking shape.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency said Salman could not attend the meetings with Obama because they conflicted with a five-day cease-fire in Yemen – where Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposite sides of the fighting.

A senior U.S. official said Salman's announced no-show was accompanied by "no expression of disappointment," adding, "If one wants to snub you, they let you know it in different ways."

The Gulf states, fearful of a nuclear Iran, have asked the administration for a treaty committing the United States to defend them if they are attacked, but Washington has declined, saying it would require Congress' approval, which would not be forthcoming. Instead, the administration offered them a presidential statement promising to defend them from attack, but this would not be binding on Obama's successors in the White House.

Arab leaders were said t be upset further by Obama's recent remark to the New York Times that U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia should turn their concern to domestic problems, such as “populations that, in some cases, are alienated, youth that are underemployed, an ideology that is destructive and nihilistic, and in some cases, just a belief that there are no legitimate political outlets for grievances.”

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the Saudis' objections are of limited consequence because the Riyadh is not in a position to abandon Washington for rivals Moscow or Beijing.

But Sadjadpour added, “There’s a growing perception at the White House that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are friends but not allies, while the U.S. and Iran are allies but not friends.”

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