RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia's King Salman will not attend a Camp David summit of U.S. and allied Arab leaders, his foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said Sunday.
The New York Times described the king's decision not to attend as an apparent signal of his displeasure
with the United States over Iran, a growing regional enemy to Saudi Arabia.
The Associated Press, however, reported that the White House did not take Salman's decision to skip the summit as a sign of any substantial disagreement with the United States.
"If one wants to snub you, they let you know it in different ways," an unnamed administration official told the Times.
Reuters quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official saying the monarch's decision to skip the summit was "not in response to any substantive issue."
"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."
In a statement, al-Jubeir said the summit Thursday coincides with a humanitarian cease-fire in the conflict in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Shiite rebels known as Houthis. He said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is also interior minister, would lead the Saudi delegation and the king's son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is defense minister, will also attend.
President Barack Obama had planned to meet Salman one-on-one a day before the gathering of leaders at the presidential retreat.
The king, who took power in January after his brother King Abdullah died, has not traveled abroad since his ascension to the throne.
As recently as Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was saying the Saudi king would attend the meeting to "resume consultations on a wide range of regional and bilateral issues." Sources say military cooperation is the central focus of the talks.
According to Arab officials quoted by the Times, Salman's decision not to attend is seen as a signal he is unhappy with what the United States has offered as assurances that America will protect its Arab allies again Iran.
The recent framework nuclear agreement with Iran that allows the country to become a nuclear state within 10 years was not well received by its Arab countries, which fear a nuclear Iran will attempt its own form of Muslim caliphate in the region.
At the summit, leaders of Gulf nations will be looking for assurance that Obama has their support when the region feels under siege from Islamic extremists and Syria, Iraq and Yemen are in various states of chaos. Arab allies also feel threatened by Iran's rising influence and worry the nuclear pact taking shape with the United States, Iran and other nations may embolden Tehran to intrude more aggressively in countries of the region.
Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the action was definitely a snub, though he said it can also be a blessing for the administration.
"It holds within it a hidden opportunity, 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," Alterman told the Times.
"For the White House though, it sends an unmistakable signal when a close partner essentially says he has better things to do than go to Camp David with the president, just a few days after the White House announced he’d have a private meeting before everything got underway," he said.
Material from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in preparing this report.
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