Obama pushes Saudis, Gulf allies to step up Iraq aid

  • Thursday, April 21, 2016 1:02am
  • NewsNation-World

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — With fresh friction wearing on an old alliance, President Barack Obama pressed Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf nations on Wednesday to step up efforts to defeat the Islamic State group and help rebuild war-torn Iraq.

Obama huddled privately with Saudi King Salman at Erga Palace as Defense Secretary Ash Carter appealed to other Gulf nations for more economic and political support for Iraq, echoing themes Obama planned to emphasize personally in talks with Gulf leaders at a regional summit. In addition to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar are participating.

The president’s visit came at a difficult time for such requests. U.S. relations with Gulf allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, are under new strains due to differences over Iran, the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and Obama’s public complaints that allies not carrying their weight.

Carter asked the Gulf countries to help with the reconstruction of the cities of Ramadi and Hit as well as Anbar province, areas that have been won back from IS militants but were left in near-shambles. He said helping the Iraqi people go home and rebuild their lives would lead to a more lasting victory and promote a more inclusive government.

“What we would like, and what we discussed today, is to do more,” Carter said at Diriyah Palace.

A senior defense official said the defense chiefs had a robust discussion, but came to no solid agreements on the increased aid. Still, the Gulf nations appear to be willing to consider doing more, said the official, who briefed reporters but was not authorized to be quoted by name.

Before ramping up assistance, Sunni leaders have been waiting to see more political improvements in Baghdad, where a political crisis has complicated efforts to focus on IS, and for greater participation and aid for the Sunni population.

The U.S. has been unsatisfied with what the Gulf nations have been willing to do in the fight, both with their military forces and financial contributions. In recent comments to The Atlantic magazine, Obama described Gulf countries, among others, as “free riders” that show “an unwillingness to put any skin in the game” regarding their own regional security.

The Saudis in particular have bristled at Obama’s suggestion that they “share the neighborhood” with Iran, which they see as their foe. A senior Obama administration official said the president’s views on Iran were the subject of extended conversation in the meeting, with the president reiterating that he believes it’s in the region’s interests to lower tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The leaders also discussed human rights, the official said, in a meeting that lasted longer than the White House expected.

Still, there were signs of a less-than-enthusiastic welcome for Obama as he arrived in Saudi Arabia.

Stepping off of Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport, Obama was greeted not by King Salman but by a lower-ranking royal, Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud, the governor of Riyadh. Ahead of Obama’s arrival, Saudi state television showed the king personally greeting senior officials from other Gulf nations arriving at the King Salman Air Base.

Mustafa Alani, a security analyst at the Gulf Research Center, said the move was unusual and intended to send a clear message that they have little faith in him.

“The Saudis had disagreements with previous presidents,” Alani said. “Here you have deep distrust that the president won’t deliver anything.”

Obama arrived a day after telling CBS News that his administration was reviewing the release of a 28-page section of the congressional report on the Sept. 11 attacks that some believe implicate Saudi Arabia in the planning, a charge the kingdom denies. The attention in the U.S. on the withheld pages comes as Congress debates legislation that would allow the families to sue Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration says it opposes the bill, and officials said the issue didn’t come up in Obama’s meeting with King Salman.

Obama ended his day with a late meeting with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The White House said in a statement that the leaders discussed the Islamic State campaign and “the importance of stabilizing areas of Iraq liberated from ISIL.”

Carter, addressing reporters in Riyadh, said Sunni support for a multi-sectarian government in Iraq will insure that the Islamic State group “stays defeated.” Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani said Carter had conveyed a U.S. commitment to stand with the Gulf nations against Iranian threats, including weapons smuggling into countries like Yemen.

In their meeting, the defense ministers also reaffirmed ways that their militaries can collaborate, including in training, exercises and missions with their special operations and naval forces. They also discussed ways to counter threats from Iran — a high priority for the Gulf countries dismayed with the U.S. move to reduce sanctions on Tehran as part of last year’s nuclear deal.

More in News

The Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore docks in Juneau in October of 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for t​​he Week of April 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, April 21, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The “Newtok Mothers” assembled as a panel at the Arctic Encounter Symposium on April 11 discuss the progress and challenges as village residents move from the eroding and thawing old site to a new village site called Mertarvik. Photographs showing deteriorating conditions in Newtok are displayed on a screen as the women speak at the event, held at Anchorage’s Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Relocation of eroding Alaska Native village seen as a test case for other threatened communities

Newtok-to-Mertarvik transformation has been decades in the making.

Bailey Woolfstead, right, and her companion Garrett Dunbar examine the selection of ceramic and wood dishes on display at the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser on behalf of the Glory Hall at Centennial Hall on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Empty Bowls provides a full helping of fundraising for the Glory Hall

Annual soup event returns to Centennial Hall as need for homeless shelter’s services keeps growing.

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon and her husband Greg. (Photo courtesy of the City and Borough of Juneau)
Greg Weldon, husband of Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon, killed in motorcycle accident Sunday morning

Accident occurred in Arizona while auto parts store co-owner was on road trip with friend

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Saturday, April 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, April 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, April 18, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Delegates offer prayers during the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s 89th Annual Tribal Assembly on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Muriel Reid / Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)
Tribal Assembly declares crisis with fentanyl and other deadly drugs its highest priority

Delegates at 89th annual event also expand foster program, accept Portland as new tribal community.

Most Read