CAMP DAVID — US President Barack Obama sought to reassure Gulf allies that his strategy of engaging Iran will not come at their expense, at a Camp David summit long on warm rhetoric but short on concrete outcomes.
Reiterating his pledge to counter external threats to Gulf states amid Iran's growing role in the region, Obama said his security commitment to the decades-old allies was "ironclad".
He said the United States was prepared to help "deter and confront an external threat to any GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) state's territorial integrity". But behind the warm words, there remains deep unease.
Only two out of six Gulf heads of state accepted the invitation to visit the presidential mountain retreat.
Around the table, Obama faced the tough task of convincing skeptical emirs, princes and sheikhs that his ambition to reach a nuclear deal with Tehran will not come at their expense.
Iran stands to regain in excess of US$100 billion in blocked cash if sanctions are lifted – cash the Gulf states believe could help fund the Islamic republic's "destabilising" activities in the region.
"Most of the destabilising activity that Iran engages in is low-tech, low-cost activity," Obama said, indicating that he believed Iran would be more interested in fixing its economy than bumper weapons buys.
Gulf states are not so sure, and had asked the United States to provide a written guarantee of their security.
Treaty talk rebuffed
But that suggestion has been rebuffed.
"We're not initiating treaties, mutual defense treaties," said senior Obama advisor Ben Rhodes.
"That is a very complicated piece of business."
Such a pact would be difficult to pass through a pro-Israeli Congress, and the White House sees asymmetric threats and internal unease at closed political systems as a greater security priority.
The Gulf states had to settle for progress on ballistic missile defense, joint military exercises and cyber and maritime security initiatives.
Obama also insisted that close security ties with Gulf nations were not designed to box in Iran.
"The purpose of security cooperation is not to perpetuate any long-term confrontation with Iran or even to marginalise Iran," he said. — AFP