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Saudi King Skips Gulf Leaders’ Big DC Meeting

Saudi Arabia confirmed Sunday that King Salman bin Abdulaziz would not attend this week’s major meeting of Gulf leaders convened by President Barack Obama at Camp David.

The Saudi announcement constitutes just the latest downgraded RSVP from Gulf nations: other countries whose heads of state will be represented by other officials are the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman. The Emirati and Omani leaders had been expected to decline because of poor health; Bahrain’s King Hamad announced his absence over the weekend.

King Salman, who has reigned since January, will instead send his recently appointed, hand-picked Crown Prince and Defense Minister to Washington, both of whom have a history of close collaboration with the United States. (RELATED: Saudi Royals’ Shake-Up Presents New Challenge To US)

His official withdrawal came after days of speculation and contradiction over his attendance. As late as Friday, when Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi Foreign Minster Adel Jubeir in Paris, the king was expected to represent Saudi Arabia in person.

U.S. and Saudi officials told The Washington Post that the king’s absence was related to the ongoing Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, and not to any ongoing tensions between the U.S. and the kingdom over Iran.

Obama announced Thursday’s high-level meeting at the Maryland presidential retreat in early April, as he announced the settlement of a framework for a nuclear deal with Iran. In that speech, he said the meeting’s attendees would “discuss how we can further strengthen our security cooperation, while resolving the multiple conflicts that have caused so much hardship and instability throughout the Middle East.” (RELATED: 5 Ways The Iran Deal Could Go Sour, And One Sign Of Hope)

Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in the Gulf — members of a local alliance called the Gulf Cooperation Council — have been a special target for outreach by the White House since the draft Iran deal was announced. The Sunni-led countries have the most to lose if Iran manages to acquire a nuclear weapon. Several have already made moves to establish a civilian nuclear energy program.

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