Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has designated his crown prince to attend a Gulf Arab summit with U.S. President Barack Obama, the state news agency, SPA, reported on Sunday, just two days after the White House said the monarch would attend the gathering.
Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef would head the delegation representing the world’s top oil exporter at the talks this week, which U.S. sources say will focus on military cooperation.
A preliminary deal between Iran and world powers on Tehran’s nuclear program and the crises in Syria and Yemen are also likely to be discussed at the summit on Tuesday and Wednesday of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council in Washington and Camp David, Maryland.
In a statement from the Saudi Embassy in Washington, Jubeir said the king deputized the crown prince to attend “due to the timing of the summit, the scheduled humanitarian ceasefire in Yemen and the opening of the King Salman Center for Humanitarian Aid.”
A senior U.S. official said the monarch’s decision to skip the summit was “not in response to any substantive issue,” signaling the Obama administration did not regard it as a diplomatic snub.
“We first learned of the king’s possible change of plans from the Saudis on Friday night,” the official said. “This was confirmed by the Saudis on Saturday. We coordinated closely with our Saudi partners on the alternate arrangement and timing of the announcement, and look forward to welcoming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
On Friday, a White House spokesman said Obama would meet on Wednesday with the Saudi king at the White House ahead of the wider summit.
A U.S. official had said last week that the absence of Salman, the most powerful of the Gulf monarchs, would detract from the summit.
The gathering coincides with the start of a five-day humanitarian truce in Yemen, proposed by Saudi Arabia and agreed to by the Houthi rebels it is fighting there.