Obama to try to allay Gulf nation leaders' fears about Iran

Meeting of the Minds - Obama to Meet Saudi King Salman

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Leaders of Gulf nations unnerved by Washington's nuclear talks with Iran and Tehran's meddling across the Mideast look to President Barack Obama to promise more than words and weapons at Thursday's Camp David summit.

They want commitments from Obama that the United States has their backs at a time when the region is under siege from Islamic extremists, Syria continues to unravel, Iraq is volatile and Yemen is in chaos.

"I think we are looking for some form of security guarantee, given the behavior of Iran in the region, given the rise of the extremist threat. We definitely want a stronger relationship," said Yousef Al Qtaiba, the United Arab Emirates' ambassador to the United States.

"In the past, we have survived with a gentleman's agreement with the United States about security. I think today, we need something in writing. We need something institutionalized."

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Obama to try to allay Gulf nation leaders' fears about Iran
US Secretary of State John Kerry organizes his papers during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill July 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew appeared before the committee to defend the Obama administrations proposed deal with Iran over the county's nuclear program. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) sits next to British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond as they attend a plenary session at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. Iran and six major world powers reached a nuclear deal on Tuesday, capping more than a decade of on-off negotiations with an agreement that could potentially transform the Middle East, and which Israel called an 'historic surrender'. AFP PHOTO / POOL / CARLOS BARRIA (Photo credit should read CARLOS BARRIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in his office in Jerusalem on July 14, 2015, after world powers reached a historic nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu said after the deal was reached that Israel was not bound by it and signalled he remained ready to order military action . AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX (Photo credit should read THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)
(From L to R) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. Iran and six major world powers reached a nuclear deal, capping more than a decade of on-off negotiations with an agreement that could potentially transform the Middle East, and which Israel called an 'historic surrender'. AFP PHOTO / POOL / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) ,French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (3rd L), China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (5th L), Federica Mogherini (C), High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, US Secretary of State John Kerry (3rd R), British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (2nd R) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) sit around the table at the Palais Coburg Hotel where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held in Vienna, Austria on July 6, 2015. Foreign ministers from major powers began crunch talks in Vienna on Monday seeking to seal a historic nuclear deal to end a 13-year standoff, one day before a final deadline, officials said. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L), French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (3rd L) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) sit around the table at the Palais Coburg Hotel where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held in Vienna, Austria on July 6, 2015. Foreign ministers from major powers began crunch talks in Vienna on Monday seeking to seal a historic nuclear deal to end a 13-year standoff, one day before a final deadline, officials said. AFP PHOTO / POOL / CARLOS BARRIA (Photo credit should read CARLOS BARRIA/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry walks delivers a statement on Cuba outside the hotel where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held in Vienna, Austria, July 1, 2015. Talks between Iran and major powers towards a historic nuclear deal are facing tough issues but are making progress, US Secretary of State John Kerry said during a break from talks in Vienna. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTIAN BRUNA (Photo credit should read CHRISTIAN BRUNA/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama gestures while making a statement at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 2, 2015 after a deal was reached on Iran's nuclear program. Iran and world powers agreed on the framework of a potentially historic deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear drive after marathon talks in Switzerland. AFP PHOTO/ NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 14: Sen. Bob Corker, Senate Foreign Relations chairman, arrives for a briefing on Iran nuclear negotiations with Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama's chief of staff Jack Lew in the Capitol on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius (R) listens on as US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a joint press conference on March 7, 2015 at the Foreign Affairs Minister in Paris. Kerry had flown into Paris just a couple of hours earlier in a bid to shore up European support for the proposed deal with Iran ahead of a March 31 deadline. AFP PHOTO /ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
EU political director Helga Schmid (CL) seats next to Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi (R) at the opening of nuclear talks between Iran and Members of the P5+1 group on March 5, 2015 in Montreux. The so-called P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany is trying to strike an accord that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 03: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd L) talks to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) (L) as Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) looks on during a photo-op prior to a meeting at the U.S. Capitol March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. At the risk of further straining the relationship between Israel and the Obama Administration, Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress warning congressional members against what he considers an ill-advised nuclear deal with Iran. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) is greeted by French Foreign Minister Fabius Laurent, on March 7, 2015, at the French Foreign Ministry in Paris. Flying in from London on the last stop of a week-long trip, Kerry will meet with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Britain to brief them on the status of the nuclear negotiations with Iran. AFP PHOTO/ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 28: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrives at Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne, Switzerland where he came for the nuclear talks with Iran on March 28, 2015. (Photo by Fatih Erel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 28: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrives at Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne, Switzerland where he came for the nuclear talks with Iran on March 28, 2015. (Photo by Fatih Erel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (L) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd L) face French Director-General for Political and Security Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicolas de Riviere (2nd R), and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (R) at the opening of a bilateral meetinh at Iran nuclear talks on March 28, 2015 in Lausanne. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
The director-general for political and security affairs at the French Foreign Ministry, Nicolas de Riviere (2nd R), and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (R) wait look on March 28, 2015 before a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel March 28, 2015 in Lausanne. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Fabius met while in Switzerland for negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program.. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (C) takes a walk before meetings at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel March 28, 2015 in Lausanne. Iranian officials are in Switzerland to continue negotiations on their nuclear program with other world powers. AFP PHOTO / POOL / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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What are the expectations for Obama's meetings with Gulf Cooperation Council countries -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman?

Weapons sales. A renewed call for a coordinated missile defense system. More joint military exercises. Better cooperation on cybersecurity, as well as maritime or border security. Making the countries' defense systems work in concert.

"I don't believe there's a single GCC country that doesn't think a defense shield for the region is a bad idea. I think everyone's on board," Qtaiba said. "The challenge is how do you turn on a regional defense system when different countries are purchasing different equipment and at different paces? How do you link it? How do you get the radars to talk to each other?"

A high-level Saudi official told The Associated Press in Riyadh that his country wants a defense system and military cooperation similar to what the U.S. affords Israel. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to disclose details of the Saudis' wish list at the summit, said they also want access to high-tech military equipment, missiles, planes and satellites, as well as more technology and training cooperation with the U.S.

The U.S. and five other nations are working to finalize a deal intended to stop Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons in exchange for easing penalties that are choking the Iranian economy. The White House says the Gulf countries would be better off with an agreement that blocks Iran's path to an atomic weapon.

But the nuclear deal is not the only source of unease.

Arab allies feel threatened by Iran's rising influence and they fear a nuclear pact will embolden Tehran. They worry that the deal would unlock billions of dollars that Iran might decide to use to further intrude in countries or support terrorist proxies.

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Obama will have to work hard to convince the Arab allies that they do not need to fear fallout from any nuclear deal.

"Right now they feel that they have no support from this administration so he has a steep hill to climb," said McCain, pointing to Saudi Arabia's decision to act unilaterally in Yemen.

McCain, R-Ariz., said that's why the Saudis gave Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of the U.S. Central Command, only "an hour's notice they were going to strike Yemen." Saudi Arabia has led airstrikes against Iranian-backed rebels who have toppled the Yemeni government.

Secretary of State John Kerry is optimistic, but declines to say exactly what kind of reassurances Obama is prepared to offer at Camp David.

"I can just tell you in general terms that they have to do with the intensifying and strengthening of the security-military relationship between the United States of America and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, as well as dealing with new challenges that we face in the region, foremost of which is the Iranian interference in the affairs of the countries of the region," Kerry said Friday in Paris.

He said U.S. officials were fleshing out a series of commitments that will create a "new security understanding, a new set of security initiatives,"

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said he expected the summit would lead to ways that "joint action will be more effective and more expansive in all areas, whether it relates to cybersecurity or defense against ballistic missiles or military training or equipping."

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, chairman of the Senate panel overseeing foreign aid, warns against the U.S. offering a massive arms package in exchange for Gulf nations' support of a nuclear deal. Graham, R-S.C., said he isn't opposed to upgrading the military capabilities of Arab allies, but "if it has a hint of being connected to the Iran deal, I will do everything I can to make sure they never get one bullet or one plane."

Jon Alterman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington wonders if there is anything the United States can do that would reassure the Gulf states when it comes to Iranian expansionism in the region.

"It seems to me that where they most want reassurance is where the U.S. is both least able and most unwilling to provide it," he said. "My guess is that the summit is going to leave everybody feeling a little bit unsatisfied."

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