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President Barack Obama’s Thursday visit to Riyadh to participate in the Gulf Cooperation Council summit comes one year after his meeting with GCC leaders in Camp David, and is an attempt to shore up an important relationship at a time when the two sides have been drifting apart over key regional issues.
The United States and the GCC have had their disagreements over the nuclear deal with Iran, the handling of the crisis in Syria, policy in Iraq, Egypt and Yemen, and the so-called pivot to Asia. Nevertheless, they still share deep common interests, including maintaining Gulf stability, the free flow of energy to world markets, curbing Iranian interventionism, defeating ISIS and al-Qaeda, ending civil wars and rebuilding regional stability.
At the summit, the two sides will discuss ways to strengthen GCC security through reinforced military cooperation and closer ties with NATO. The GCC will press Obama for clearer assurances on containing and pushing back on Iranian regional interventionism, while Obama will urge his GCC partners for more commitments in the war against ISIS and Al Qaeda in Libya, Syria and Yemen. The two sides will also engage in relation to the ongoing negotiations to end the conflicts in those three countries.
It is important for this summit to reinforce this relationship and build on these numerous common interests, while addressing areas of disagreement frankly and constructively. But the summit should also be an occasion to think big about ways to transform the current conflict system in which Iran and many Arab states are destructively entwined into a more stable and cooperative regional order.