By Kevin Liptak,
CNN White House Producer
During a string of sessions at the ornate Diriyah Palace in Riyadh, Obama pressed the various Kings, Emirs, and Sultans of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar to provide more support to war-torn Iraq as a U.S.-backed coalition takes back ground from ISIS. He also worked to convince leaders to provide more resources to opposition fighters in Syria, and to lend firmer backing to a political transition process in the civil war-torn country.
Thursday morning Obama met individually with the leaders of Kuwait and Qatar to make his case, the White House said, followed by a series of group meetings. But in both his bilateral talks and in the larger sessions, Obama faced the same skepticism that has clouded ties between Washington and Riyadh: fears over a resurgent Iran, doubts at Obama’s Syria strategy, and differences in fighting terror.
Obama’s schedule at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit was broken into three sessions Thursday, with the first focused on stabilizing regional conflicts. U.S. officials said that discussion included Yemen, where a fragile ceasefire between the government and Iran-backed rebels hasn’t stalled fighting; and Libya, where a power vacuum has led to an inflow of ISIS militants.
“I think there’s broad agreement on where we’re trying to go in the region,” Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Thursday. “People would like to see stability restored to Yemen and a political transition in Syria away from (President Bashar al-) Assad, and people would like to see Iraq maintain its unity and increase its stability. On the core issues there’s agreement on where we want to go.”
But Rhodes acknowledged there have been “occasional tactical differences on what we are emphasizing at any point of time.”
“We’re working to align approaches and strategies,” Rhodes said.
Ahead of the session, Obama and the leaders gathered for a group photo that placed Obama between Salman and Oman’s Deputy Prime Minister Sayyid Fahad Mahmood Al Said. Later, during a photo-op in the meeting room, Obama was seen chatting intently with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi as other leaders prepared for the talks around a large circular table.
The President and the Gulf leaders also convened two other separate sessions, one focused on fighting terror and another on Iran
, whose moves following the easing of Western sanctions are being closely monitored by its Arab Gulf neighbors.
Afterward, Obama was planning to speak to reporters before departing Saudi Arabia for London.
Saudis’ wary eye
Obama arrived for his brief visit to the Saudi kingdom Wednesday, looking to overcome a strain in ties between Riyadh and Washington.
Aside from fears over the Iran deal, the Saudis are anxiously eyeing Obama’s decision on declassifying pages that could shed light on the country’s hand in the September 11 terror attacks. They’re also monitoring U.S. efforts to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria with some degree of doubt.
Officials here also balked at Obama’s suggestion in a recent magazine interview that the kingdom wasn’t pulling its weight in global military efforts.
Emerging from a two-and-a-half hour meeting between Obama and Salman, U.S. officials described a productive session they claimed reduced some of the awkwardness that had seeped into the bilateral relationship. One official said Obama “really cleared the air”
with Salman during their talks at the Erga Palace in Riyadh.
While Saudi officials have recently threatened to withdraw assets from the United States if pending legislation allowing families of September 11 victims to sue foreign governments, that topic did not arise during Obama’s meeting with the monarch.