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Obama vows ‘ironclad’ support to Gulf states

Obama says the U.S. ‘is prepared to work jointly with GCC member states to deter and confront an external threat’ to their security

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President Barack Obama pledged America’s “ironclad commitment” to Arab Gulf nations Thursday to help protect their security, pointedly mentioning the potential use of military force and offering assurances that a potential nuclear agreement with Iran would not leave them more vulnerable.

Addressing reporters after a Camp David summit with six Gulf leaders, Obama said: “I am reaffirming our ironclad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners.

“As we’ve declared in our joint statement, the United States is prepared to work jointly with GCC member states to deter and confront an external threat to any GCC state’s territorial integrity that is inconsistent with the U.N. charter,” he said.

The U.S. pledged to bolster its security cooperation with the Gulf on counterterrorism, maritime security, cybersecurity and ballistic missile defense.

“Let me underscore, the United States keeps our commitments,” Obama said at a news conference.

Thursday’s meeting at Obama's retreat in the Maryland mountains was aimed at quelling the Gulf’s fears of U.S.-led nuclear talks with Iran. Gulf states worry that if Iran wins international sanctions relief, the influx of cash would embolden what they see as Tehran's aggression in the region.

The president acknowledged those concerns, but said the U.S. believes Iran’s focus would be on shoring up an economy that has struggled under the sanctions pressure.

Obama also said with Gulf leaders standing by his side at the end of the talks that "the United States will stand by our GCC partners against external attack and will deepen and extend cooperation that we have.”

Obama promised a “concrete series of steps” from the one-day summit as he sought to allay Gulf Arab fears that the potential lifting of international sanctions on Tehran would embolden it in the region and raise the risk of more sectarian strife.

Following Obama's remarks, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, said that his country and other GCC states hope that the Iran agreement would be a stabilizing factor in the region.

Sheikh Tamim also said that the talks were fruitful and candid in all regional issues.

“In the event of such aggression or the threat of such aggression, the United States stands ready to work with our GCC partners to determine urgently what action may be appropriate, using the means at our collective disposal, including the potential use of military force, for the defense of our GCC partners,” the joint statement added.

Non-NATO ally status

On the sidelines of the summit, a White House spokesperson said that the White House was open to the idea of granting its Gulf Cooperation Council partners major non-NATO ally status.

But talks at the Camp David summit have been focused more on public assurances about help the U.S. can provide with security, Ben Rhodes said.

Obama and the leaders from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain opened their talks with a private dinner Wednesday night at the White House.

Just two heads of state are among those meeting Obama, with other nations sending lower-level but still influential representatives.

The most notable absence is Saudi King Salman. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia announced that the king was skipping the summit, just two days after the White House said he was coming.

The Saudi king isn't the only head of state sending a lower-level representative to the summit. The heads of the United Arab Emirates and Oman have had health problems and were not making the trip.

The Gulf summit comes as the U.S. and five other nations work to reach an agreement with Iran by the end of June to curb its nuclear efforts in exchange for relief from international economic sanctions. The Gulf nations fear that an easing of sanctions will only facilitate what they see as Iran's aggression.

The White House says a nuclear accord could clear the way for more productive discussions with Iran about its reputed terror links.

(With agencies)