This Week’s DC Meeting of Gulf Leaders: What to Watch

President Obama has invited leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states  – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – to the White House and Camp David this week in a major diplomatic move. It is intended to reassure the Gulf monarchies of continuing U.S. government support despite a nuclear deal with Iran. All the GCC states are ruled by Sunni elites who fear aggression from Shia Iran.

Here are five things to look  for:

1. Who Shows Up

The president invited the heads of state of the Gulf countries but it looks like he’s getting much of the B-team. The sultan of Oman and the president of the UAE are unlikely to come, citing health reasons, and Bahrain will be represented by its crown prince instead of the king. The new Saudi king is sending a sub too, Crown Price Mohammed bin Nayef. This will be read as a snub to Obama, a sign of GCC displeasure at what it sees as Washington’s lack of support.

2. Cringeworthy Tweets from U.S. Government Officials

Secretary of State John Kerry’s twitter account posted this after he met the Gulf foreign ministers in Paris last week.

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The Gulf monarchies are certainly in the lead among Washington’s allies when it comes to floggings, beheadings, torture, and violent repression of dissent. Look out for more awful fawning to make the GCC leaders feel special.

3. Weapons Deals

Nothing says commitment better than a major arms deal. Various GCC countries want much more from the United States, including F-35s, greater training and a NATO-type level of military support from Washington. Watch out for remaining arms restrictions on sales to Bahrain to be lifted as part of the U.S. government’s reassurance package.

4. Reports of the Tough Conversation

President Obama promised a “tough conversation” with the GCC monarchies this week about how their attacks on civil society fuel grievances and extremism in the region. The readout of how that discussion went will offer some indication of how serious the U.S. administration is in pressing these issues with its repressive allies.

5. Human Rights Gestures

To offset criticism of their awful human rights records some of the GCC countries might make some gestures on human rights issues this week. Bahrain announced on Friday that it would consider a number of pardons for prisoners “for humanitarian reasons.”

In advance of the president’s meetings this week, Human Rights First will host a panel discussion in its Washington, D.C. office tomorrow, May 12th at 10:00 am. The panel will bring together experts on human rights issues in the Gulf to discuss what President Obama should bring up during the “tough conversation” with the GCC leaders. For more information, or to register for the event visit the event page.


Published on May 11, 2015


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