White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today that if King Salman changing his mind against coming to Washington this week was supposed to send a message to the administration, “that message was not received.”
Earnest insisted that “all the feedback that we’ve received from the Saudis has been positive.”
The Saudi king, who was supposed to meet one-on-one with President Obama at the White House on Wednesday before a broader meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, initially RSVP’d “yes.” On Friday, he changed that to a “no.”
Of the GCC states invited — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — only Kuwait and Qatar are sending heads of state to the Camp David confab.
Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef will be attending. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir insisted to CNN that the king was staying behind because of the need to oversee the offensive in Yemen. A five-day humanitarian ceasefire to allow for aid to be brought to the country begins tomorrow.
“This idea that this is any way a snub or reflects a problem with the relationship actually has no basis in fact,” said Al Jubeir, who up until recently was the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
This GCC summit was an idea touted by Obama upon the announcement of the nuclear framework with Iran, as a way to smooth over opposition to the impending deal in the Gulf states.
“What we want to do is essentially have a game plan for how we can cooperate and work jointly with our GCC partners, not just in providing them with reassurance as to their security in the face of external threats, but also in terms of developing the capabilities that will better prepare them to deal with the evolving situation in the region,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters today.
Rhodes defended the guest list as “not at all uncommon for a number of these heads of state to not travel internationally for meetings of this nature but rather to have the individuals who are representing them at this type of meeting.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told MSNBC that the king’s change of plans was indeed a snub and an “indicator of the lack of confidence that the Saudis and others have.”
“They do not see a way to reach — to be satisfied with the situation when it’s clear that Iranian nuclear deal is a No. 1 priority, and this administration feels that they can some how make agreements with Iran throughout the region when these countries view Iran as a direct threat. That certainly is the case when you look at Iranian aggression in four different countries that has destabilized them and given the Iranians a lead role,” McCain said.
On Kerry’s recent visit to Riyadh, McCain noted, “I have great respect for John Kerry, but I’ve noticed in his tenure here in the Senate but also as secretary of State that he sometimes interprets things as he wants them to be rather than what they really are, whether it’d be convening 40 nations in Geneva to arrange the departure of Bashar al-Assad from Syria, as you might recall he did, the Palestinian-Israeli failed peace talks, and of course there’s other examples of it, particularly the failure to restrain Vladimir Putin and his continued aggression in Ukraine.”
Rhodes later responded that “this type of repeated questioning of the credibility of the secretary of State of the United States of America, who served many years in the United States Senate and the United States military, is not in keeping with longstanding practice with respect to U.S. national security.”
“Clearly, the king sets the direction,” Rhodes acknowledged. “And President Obama spoke to King Salman today. They’ve had several conversations and will have an ongoing dialogue about the broader strategic direction here. But it’s, we believe, the right degree of representation for them to have essentially all of the people in their system who have the responsibility for these portfolios at the table at Camp David.”
In a readout of that call, the White House said the king “called President Obama today to express his regret at not being able to travel to Washington this week.”
“The President and King Salman reviewed the agenda for the upcoming meetings and agreed on the necessity of working closely, along with other GCC member states, to build a collective capacity to address more effectively the range of threats facing the region and to resolve regional conflicts. The President and King Salman also discussed the importance of a comprehensive agreement between the P5+1 and Iran that verifiably ensures the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”