WASHINGTON, May 11 – Newly crowned Saudi King Salman has refused an invitation to attend a landmark summit hosted by President Barack Obama, amid angst over US-Iran nuclear negotiations.
Obama had invited six Gulf kings, emirs and sultans to the presidential retreat at Camp David, seeking to shore up wavering trust while Washington negotiates with regional power Tehran.
Obama’s plans now lie in tatters, with only two heads of state slated to attend the Thursday meeting.
Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington said Sunday that recently named Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef would instead lead the Saudi delegation to the meeting.
The king’s youthful son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who is tipped as a possible future successor and who has driven recent military operations in Yemen – will also attend.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Salman would miss the meeting “due to the timing of the summit, the scheduled humanitarian ceasefire in Yemen and the opening of the King Salman Center for Humanitarian Aid,” according to the embassy statement.
Oman’s Sultan Qaboos has been ill, and diplomats said Muscat will be represented by the deputy prime minister.
Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan will attend, according to diplomats, as United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan is also unwell and has not appeared in public since having an operation after a stroke last year.
Even before becoming king, Salman was rumored to be ill, and his son and the now crown prince have played oversized roles in Saudi foreign policy. Saudi Arabia has denied the illness.
As late as Friday, US officials said they had expected Salman to come to Washington, before learning of the change in plan.
“This is not in response to any substantive issue,” insisted one senior US administration official.