Obama Reaffirms Security Commitment To Gulf Partners

Obama Reaffirms Security Commitment To Gulf Partners

4:34pm May 15, 2015

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The Obama administration used to talk of a pivot to Asia. Two contrasting schedules tell you how that's going. As Secretary Kerry prepared to visit Asia, President Obama worked on reassuring allies in the Middle East. The president hosted representatives from half a dozen Sunni Arab countries at Camp David. Their confidence is shaken by the president's outreach to Iran. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama says he invited the Arab leaders to the rustic presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains outside Washington to underscore a point - that the United States keeps its promises, including a promise to defend Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and their neighbors from any external threat.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am reaffirming our ironclad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners.

HORSLEY: Sunni Arab countries had begun to question that commitment as they watched the administration try to strike a nuclear agreement with their age-old Shia rival, Iran. Some Gulf countries worry that Iranian interference in places like Syria and Yemen will only grow worse if economic sanctions against the Tehran government are relaxed. The U.S. offered to back up its already robust military presence in the Gulf with additional exercises, streamlined sales of military hardware and a deeper level of security cooperation. Obama says the goal is to allow Arab countries to deal with Iran from a position of confidence and strength.


OBAMA: None of our nations have an interest in open-ended conflict with Iran. We welcome an Iran that plays a responsible role in the region.

HORSLEY: Speaking for the Gulf countries, the emir of Qatar said they welcome a U.S. agreement that prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes insists the nuclear deal doesn't depend on broader reforms in Iran. At the same time, Rhodes says the deal could be a promising first step.


BEN RHODES: They are more likely to evolve in a more constructive direction in a world in which there is a deal than in a world in which there is no deal. You may see an Iran that wants to be more integrated with the international community, wants to see a nuclear deal as a first step towards that integration.

HORSLEY: At a news conference after the Camp David summit, the president was also asked about another risky negotiation, this one closer to home. In teaming up with Republicans to advance a big Asia-Pacific trade deal, Obama has alienated many of his traditional allies on the left. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren has spearheaded a vigorous attack on the trade deal and the fast-track process the administration hopes to use to pass it. Obama defended both the agreement and his style of debating Warren, which some have criticized as overly familiar.


OBAMA: The issue with respect to myself and Elizabeth has never been personal.

HORSLEY: Obama insists he still shares most of the agenda that his progressive critics champion, even if they disagree about how the trade deal fits into that.


OBAMA: I would not be promoting any agreement that I didn't think, you know, at the end of the day, was going to be creating jobs in the United States and giving us more of an opportunity to create ladders of success, higher incomes and higher wages for the American people.

HORSLEY: Yesterday, the Senate voted to move forward with a fast-track trade bill after a group of centrist Democrats dropped their opposition. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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