President Barack Obama on Wednesday hailed America's "extraordinary friendship" with Saudi Arabia as he hosted skeptical Gulf leaders for a summit beset by disagreements and royal no-shows, AFP reports.
Describing "an extraordinary friendship and relationship that dates back to Franklin Roosevelt and King Faisal," in the 1940s, Obama heaped praise on two the powerful Saudi princes who visited the Oval Office.
"We are continuing to build that relationship during a very challenging time," Obama said, a nod to conflagrations in Yemen, Syria and Iraq that have reverberated across the Middle East.
Obama praised his guests Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for their work on counterterrorism, which he described as "absolutely critical" to the United States.
During the meeting, the Saudi Crown Prince lauded "the strategic and historic relationship" between the two countries.
The meeting precedes a summit at Camp David, in which the Gulf states will be seeking assurances from Obama that he is ready to push back against Iranian proxies, in particular in Syria, even if it causes turbulence in sensitive nuclear talks.
They will also want assurances the nuclear deal between Iran and the West does not represent a broader "grand bargain" with Iran.
The summit did not get off to a particularly good start, with Saudi King Salman deciding at the last minute that he would skip the meeting in order to focus on the Yemen ceasefire and humanitarian aid effort.
The move was interpreted by many as a deliberate rebuff to Obama, but Saudi Arabia insisted the king did not intend to snub the President.
Tensions between Washington and the Gulf states over Iran has been high, with Arab governments repeatedly expressing their concern about the terms of a potential nuclear deal and warning that a final agreement could allow Iran to keep the technologies needed to produce nuclear weapons.
Saudi Arabia’s former Foreign Minister recently said that Iran should not be given “deals it does not deserve”.
The Arab concern over the deal with Iran is actually shared with Israel, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly warned against the framework agreement.
The concern in Saudi Arabia over the nuclear deal with rival Iran is so great that a columnist in a Saudi-controlled government newspaper recently expressed support for Netanyahu’s warnings against a deal with Iran.