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Saudi King Won't Attend Camp David Summit

Saudi Arabia's King Salman attends a ceremony at the Diwan royal palace in Riyadh in April.
Yoan Valat
Saudi Arabia's King Salman attends a ceremony at the Diwan royal palace in Riyadh in April.

The kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have dropped out of a White House summit planned at Camp David on Thursday.

NPR's Peter Kenyon reports that the kingdoms will send deputies instead. Peter filed this report for our Newscast unit:

"U.S. officials say there was no snub intended by Saudi King Salman's decision to skip the summit, which was to include a private meeting with President Obama.

"A statement by the Saudi foreign minister cited conflicts, including a proposed five-day cease-fire in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is carrying out airstrikes against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

"The heads of Bahran, the United Arab Emirates and Oman will also miss the gathering, where Arab leaders will be looking for security guarantees from the Obama administration and a pledge to curtail Iran's regional ambitions.

"A day ahead of the proposed cease-fire, heavy fighting continues in Yemen, with aid groups saying tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing the Houthi stronghold of Saada in northern Yemen. "

The New York Times cites a senior Obama administration official saying King Salman is expected to explain his decision during a call with Obama.

The Times adds:

"The official said that when the king met Secretary of State John Kerry in Riyadh last week, he indicated that he was looking forward to coming to the meeting. But on Friday night, after the White House put out a statement saying Mr. Obama would be meeting with King Salman in Washington, administration officials received a call from the Saudi foreign minister that the king would not be coming after all.

"There was 'no expression of disappointment' from the Saudis, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. 'If one wants to snub you, they let you know it in different ways,' the official said.

"Jon Alterman, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said King Salman's absence was both a blessing and a snub. 'It holds within it a hidden opportunity,' he said, 'because senior U.S. officials will have an unusual opportunity to take the measure of Mohammed bin Salman, the very young Saudi defense minister and deputy crown prince, with whom few have any experience.'"

Update at 1:27 p.m. ET. Not A Snub:

During his daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the White House was not taking Saudi King Salman's decision as a snub.

He said that if the schedule change was intended to send a message to the White House, the "message was not received."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.