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US-Gulf summit hangs in the balance

President Trump said in April that a postponed meeting with Gulf leaders would go ahead in September. But will it happen?

The US president's idea is that the heads of state of the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council should meet at Camp David in September. One of the aims would be to find a solution to the dispute between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the one side, and Qatar on the other. That's assuming there's no reconciliation before then. Since June 2017, a Saudi-led group of states has imposed an economic and diplomatic blockade on Qatar.

A fairly safe assumption is that there won't have been a solution by September. In which case it's hard to imagine Saudi and UAE leaders being willing to sit down with the emir of Qatar. For its part, Qatar has said it's happy to open talks on the issue. All the while, the two sides in the dispute are continuing to wage a vicious media war.

Then there's the issue of the oil price. Trump has an eye on the mid-term elections in November and would like to woo voters with lower gasoline prices. He's already made known his displeasure at what he regards as Opec's failure to take steps to bring prices down.

Saudi output down

At the last Opec meeting, in June, Saudi Arabia responded by pushing for production increases, and the price fell accordingly. But now there are signs that since July, Saudi production has actually decreased rather than increased. From 10.3m barrels a day last month, the August figure looks like being around 10.1m b/d. Trump won't be happy.

On the issue of Iran, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE line up squarely behind the US-but Qatar definitely doesn't. So even if the Saudi-UAE blockade of Qatar was lifted, the two sides would be at loggerheads when the Iran question came up at Camp David.

Gulf leaders also might prefer to see how the Republicans fare in the November elections before deciding to appear again on a public stage with Trump. Already Saudi Arabia seems to be hinting that while it's happy to back the US Iran policy, it's not prepared to see the oil price collapse. It needs all the revenue it can get to finance its ambitious economic reform programme.

In other words, there are plenty of excuses to be plucked out of the air if one or more of the parties decides that a Camp David summit in September is a non-starter. Even if two or three Gulf leaders agree to meet Trump, there's no hope of the GCC as a whole being represented. Kuwait has been trying to mediate in the Qatar crisis and, along with Oman, doesn't want to get involved in any action over Iran. So they might both feel uncomfortable at the Camp David idea and decide to stay away.

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