Saudi Arabia has announced that its new monarch, King Salman, will not attend meetings at the White House with President Obama or a summit of Arab leaders at Camp David. The king will instead send Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is the interior minister, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the defense minister.
The main reason cited for the King’s abstention — the summit meeting overlaps with a five-day cease-fire in Yemen — is laughable. I don’t think King Salman is going to Yemen to personally monitor the cease fire. He can stay abreast of developments from Washington.
The King’s decision is an obvious snub of President Obama, and a well-deserved one given Obama’s pathetically accommodating approach to Iran, the Saudis sworn enemy. According to the New York Times, the summit is intended to reassure the United States will back its Arab allies against a rising Iran. By not attending, King Salman is telling Obama what he thinks such assurances are worth.
It’s really a staggering gesture when you think about it. As Jon Alterman, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Times, “a close partner [is] essentially say[ing] he has better things to do than go to Camp David with the president, just a few days after the White House announced he’d have a private meeting before everything got underway.”
The King, moreover, is new to the job. Ordinarily, a new ruler of a U.S. ally would be chomping at the bit to have a private meeting with the American president. That King Salman is blowing off the meeting, as well as a summit, tells us how little respect the Saudis have for Obama and how dramatically U.S. prestige in the Middle East has diminished in the past six years.