Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

President Obama Meets With Arab Allies At Camp David


President Obama met today at Camp David with representatives from half a dozen Persian Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia. The summit was designed to reassure the traditional Arab allies who've been alarmed by the administration's diplomatic overtures with their longtime enemy Iran. President Obama told reporters after the meeting that he reaffirmed the United States' decades-old commitment to the Arab allies' security.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In the event of such aggression or the threat of such aggression, the United States stands ready to work with our GCC partners to urgently determine what actions may be appropriate using the means at our collective disposal, including the potential use of military force for the defense of our GCC partners. And let me underscore, the United States keeps our commitments.

CORNISH: The leaders have also been discussing a range of regional threats including the rise of the self-described Islamic State. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from Camp David. And Scott, what's the president offering in concrete terms to these Gulf countries?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Of course the U.S. already has a strong military presence in the Gulf. But the president says there will be more military exercises, a streamlined process for the Arab countries that want to buy military hardware, and the U.S. will also be working with the Gulf countries on better coordination of their own defenses against, for example, missile threats. But the Saudi foreign minister said this was not a summit where the Arab countries came with a list of demands or the president came with a list of offers. Instead, the foreign minister said, this was a brainstorming session for all the countries to talk about how they can strengthen their security alliance, an alliance that has been shaken by the administration's outreach to the Arabs' age-old rival, Iran.

CORNISH: But Scott, did the president succeed in selling the Gulf countries on his nuclear negotiations?

HORSLEY: The president says he did not bring a contract for the Saudis or the Kuwaitis to sign on the dotted line that they approve of the Iranian nuclear deal. And, of course, that deal is not yet complete. He also said that the Arab countries expressed some concern that if a deal is completed and economic sanctions on Iran are relaxed, there's a fear that Iran will have more money to use to make mischief in places like Syria and Yemen.

At the same time, the Saudis acknowledged that a deal that succeeds in keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon would be positive, and Obama argued they don't want to perpetually marginalize Iran. They want Iran's cooperation in addressing other regional conflicts, if they can do that in a way that's acceptable to the Saudis and their neighbors.


OBAMA: And so a key purpose of bolstering the capacity of our GCC partners is to ensure that our partners can deal with Iran politically, diplomatically, from a position of confidence and the strength.

CORNISH: Scott, the president also took questions on other topics tonight, including the effort to strike a big Asia-Pacific trade deal, a push that's put him at odds with some of his allies here in Washington, right?

HORSLEY: It has, and that fight has been pretty bitter at times with progressive Democrats pushing back against the president's trade agenda. Obama said today his fight with people like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is not personal.


OBAMA: This just comes down to a policy difference and analysis in terms of what we think is the best for our people - our constituents.

HORSLEY: Obama scored a victory in the Republican-controlled Senate today when lawmakers took a step forward on a bill that would give the president fast-track authority to finalize the trade deal. Assuming the Senate does approve that, the president's next challenge will be winning over the House as well as a still skeptical American public.

CORNISH: NPR's Scott Horsley speaking to us from Camp David. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.