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GCC leaders to meet with President Obama

Gulf Cooperation Council–US summit at the White House and Camp David

Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will be meeting with President Barack Obama this week at the White House and at Camp David. The six member nations of the GCC are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, however, will not attend the meeting. The country’s foreign minister said the monarch will stay at home to deal with the situation in Yemen. That crisis, along with Syria, and U.S. talks over Iran’s nuclear program are expected to top the agenda at the meeting.

On Thursday, in a 98-1 vote, the Senate passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act; the House of Representatives is expected to debate its version of the measure in the coming week.

The GCC monarchies, all Sunni, are nervous about Shia Iran’s growing influence in the region as it backs Syrian government forces and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. 

U.S. talks over Tehran’s nuclear program have also unsettled Arab Gulf leaders.

To counter Iran’s influence, the GCC members are expected to ask the United States for advanced weapons, aircraft and missile defense systems. They’re also hoping for U.S. support in backing opposition forces in Syria to oust President Bashar al-Assad. Saudi Arabia and Iran have large oil reserves, and with dropping oil prices, Riyadh is pushing to keep sanctions against Tehran in place.

Saudi Arabia has proposed a five-day humanitarian cease-fire in Yemen that could begin as early as Tuesday. The Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes in Yemen in March. The United Nations humanitarian coordinator has called those strikes a violation of international law.

During Al Jazeera America's Sunday night segment The Week Ahead, Del Walters spoke to Richard Murphy, a former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and to Khalil Jahshan, the executive director of the Arab Center in Washington.

Murphy said the GCC states are cautioning against cooperation with Iran, saying their message will be strong in that regard. “They point to what they see as the loss of Iraq and Syria and the activities of Hezbollah and now the Houthis in Yemen as examples of a malicious Iranian policy.”

Jahshan said that Gulf Arab leaders “feel the nuclear deal would liberate Iran by removing sanctions, restoring seized funds and allowing Tehran to resume all kinds of policies that they view as antagonistic to their own interests in the region … They feel that the U.S. is contributing to that unsettling situation by signing this agreement with Iran.”

Another issue of great interest to the Arab nations is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Nation magazine reported in March, “Early last month, the Department of Defense released a secret report done in 1987 by the Pentagon-funded Institute for Defense Analysis that essentially confirms the existence of Israel’s nukes.” The Arms Control Association and The Guardian newspaper have reported that Israel has 80 to 100 warheads.

Murphy said that “Arab leaders see nuclear power in Israel’s hands as a trump card blocking any progress on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and avoiding pressure from world powers, but they, in the region, are less today concerned about Israel than they are about Iran.”

Jahshan said while the Gulf Arab nations view the danger from Iran as greater in terms of their national security, they will send Obama a clear message that they view the Israeli issue as an inconsistent aspect of U.S. foreign policy. “On the one hand, the U.S. is preaching nonproliferation to the Arab side — trying to convince them to support the deal with Iran and telling them that we have to keep the area free of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons — yet at the same time looking the other way when it comes to Israel with regards to this huge arsenal of nuclear weapons that it had amassed with the acquiescence of the United States,” he said.

In terms of fighting Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Murphy said he believes Arab countries are still some time away from having a unified force to deal with the group. “They will try to co-opt elements within Syria and Iraq who are opposed to ISIL and who are also opposed to the Iranians, if they can find those.”

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