Reuters / Kevin Lamarque Obama arrives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in March 2014.

A Fresh Start with the Gulf?

How to Repair Ties with Washington's Arab Partners

The stakes are high for the meeting between President Barack Obama and Gulf leaders at Camp David on May 14. Although the talks are intended to bolster the U.S.–Gulf partnership, the summit faces a high risk of ending in failure. Washington would be making a big mistake by not proposing a significant upgrade in its security relations with its Gulf partners that is as bold and strategically significant as its prospective nuclear deal with Tehran—yet that seems to be the exact course that Obama is most likely to follow.

To be sure, the Camp David summit won’t suddenly end mistrust and resolve differences among the partners—a result of their disagreement over the merits of a nuclear accord with Iran that neither eliminates its capability to produce nuclear weapons nor arrests its destabilizing influence in the region. But the meeting presents an excellent opportunity to put that decades-old partnership back on track. A failure to do so will carry long-lasting consequences, including the worsening of the Iran–Saudi Arabia regional struggle. That development could intensify regional arms races, heighten the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and even drag the United States into another open-ended military intervention in the Middle East.

Obama’s decision to host his guests at Camp David, and not just the White House, signals his understanding of these stakes. But beyond his choice of the symbolic location, there is little to indicate that his administration is ready for these talks. The Gulf states, after all, seek more than token security commitments from Washington; they are looking to restore the close relationship. Although they have full trust in the United States’ capability to defend them against external threats, they have little confidence in Washington’s political will and its resolve to actually act if the need arises. (Obama’s violation of his own red line on chemical weapons in Syria is but one reason for their skepticism.) On that critical front, Washington

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