US PRESIDENT Barack Obama sought to convince Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies yesterday that America is committed to their security despite deep concern among Arab leaders about US efforts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran.
During a rare, high-profile summit at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, Mr Obama met with representatives from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to discuss security cooperation.
Tension over US policy toward Tehran, Syria and the Arab Spring uprisings loomed over the meetings, which have already been overshadowed by some countries' decisions to send lower-level leaders.
Saudi King Salman pulled out, sending Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman instead.
The White House has said such decisions were not snubs and has portrayed the summit as a set of working meetings rather than symbolic sessions.
White House officials said on Monday the summit would produce announcements on integrating ballistic missile defence systems and increasing joint military exercises.
Mr Obama was scheduled to hold three working sessions with the leaders at the rustic retreat as well as a lunch and a series of photo shoots. Arab leaders are concerned that lifting Western sanctions as part of a nuclear deal with Iran would empower Tehran to act in a destabilising manner in the region.
Adding weight to those concerns, Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fired warning shots over a Singapore-flagged cargo vessel in international waters in the Gulf yesterday, prompting the cargo vessel to flee into United Arab Emirates' territorial waters, according to US officials.
The US and five other world powers are in talks with Tehran to curb its atomic programme. The Obama administration would like GCC support for the deal to help convince a sceptical US Congress it has broad backing in the region.
Although he will not offer a security treaty, as some Gulf leaders desired, Mr Obama will seek to allay their fears about the US commitment to their defence needs.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday: "Much of what the president has in mind is helping the GCC countries use the hardware that they have to better coordinate their efforts and better provide for the security of their citizens."