President Barack Obama will seek to convince Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies on Thursday that the United States is committed to their security despite deep concern among Arab leaders about U.S. efforts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran.
During a rare, high-profile summit at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, Obama will meet with representatives from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to discuss security cooperation.
Tension over U.S. policy toward Tehran, Syria and the Arab Spring uprisings will loom over the meetings, which have already been overshadowed by some countries' decisions to send lower-level leaders.
Saudi King Salman pulled out, sending Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman instead.
The White House has said such decisions were not snubs and has portrayed the summit as a set of working meetings rather than symbolic sessions.
White House officials said on Monday the summit would produce announcements on integrating ballistic missile defense systems and increasing joint military exercises.
Obama is scheduled to hold three working sessions with the leaders at the rustic retreat as well as a lunch and a series of photo shoots. He will give a press conference at 5:00 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT).
Arab leaders are concerned that lifting Western sanctions as part of a nuclear deal with Iran would empower Tehran to act in destabilizing ways in the region.
Adding weight to those concerns, Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fired warning shots over a Singapore-flagged cargo vessel in international waters in the Gulf on Thursday, prompting the cargo vessel to flee into United Arab Emirates' territorial waters, according to U.S. officials.
The United States and five other world powers are in talks with Tehran to curb its atomic program. The Obama administration would like GCC support for the deal to help convince a skeptical U.S. Congress it has broad backing in the region.
Although he will not offer a security treaty as some Gulf leaders desired, Obama will seek to allay their fears about the U.S. commitment to their defense needs.
"That will be the essence of the conversations: What can we do to modernize and deepen that security cooperation?" White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday.
"And much of what the president has in mind is helping the GCC countries use the hardware that they have to better coordinate their efforts and better provide for the security of their citizens."