The White House has canceled plans for a meeting later this month between President Barack Obama and Persian Gulf monarchs in Saudi Arabia based on tensions among US allies in the region, sources told The Wall Street Journal.
The summit was to include leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait. Diplomats informed of the decision to scuttle the meeting said the cancellation symbolizes the tumultuous political climate in the Middle East.
The US has worked with the GCC on security and economic issues in recent years, but the main points of contention include Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear operations.
In addition, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain withdrew ambassadors from Qatar this month based on its support for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group.
The US scrapped the summit upon the recommendation of many of the GCC countries, officials said.
"It's unfortunate, because we thought it was important to have such a high-level dialogue," a senior Arab official told The Wall Street Journal.
The White House did not comment.
Obama will, though, meet face-to-face with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in Riyadh next week at the conclusion of a trip mostly focused on Europe and the ongoing strife in Ukraine. The meeting will certainly address tensions between Washington and Riyadh over the Obama administration’s secret talks with Shiite Iran – the Sunni kingdom’s top regional rival – and the failure of the US to follow through with military force against Syrian President Bashar Assad, Arab officials said.
The US Treasury Department said it has seen the recent transfer of large amounts of funding from charities and social media sites based in Qatar and Kuwait to Sunni extremists fighting the Shiite-led Iraqi government and Iran’s ally Syria, including Al Nusra Front, which is linked to Al-Qaeda. Qatar also harbors members of Hamas, officials say, a Palestinian group designated a terrorist organization by the US and the European Union.
"Qatar, a longtime US ally, has for many years openly financed Hamas, a group that continues to undermine regional stability," the US Treasury Department's top counterterrorism official, David Cohen, said this month. "Press reports indicate that the Qatari government is also supporting extremist groups operating in Syria. To say the least, this threatens to aggravate an already volatile situation."
Cohen added that Kuwait "has become the epicenter of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria."
Qatar and Kuwait officials have denied the accusations of support for alleged terror groups.
Kuwait’s ambassador to the US, Salem Abdullah Al Jaber Al Sabah, told The Wall Street Journal that the country’s legislature had recently toughened laws “to combat terrorism.”
Qatari officials say their support for the Muslim Brotherhood is not out of bounds, as they believe the group to be a legitimate organization.
"Qatar has chosen not to remain on the fringe of history, and decided to play a significant role in world affairs…[and] work to halt fierce conflicts and care for refugees," Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah said in a speech earlier this month.
Backing the Brotherhood and ousted former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Qatar ran afoul of the Saudis and the UAE, which have invested heavily in supporting the new military-led regime in Cairo.
The US is closely tied with the GCC countries, supplying them with billions of dollars in weapons and maintaining military bases in Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy’s Fifth fleet.
Yet the countries are divided over US efforts to work with Iran to scale back its nuclear program. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain say Washington isn’t doing enough to force Tehran’s hand, while Oman, for instance, has played a role in mediating the nuclear talks.