Washington (CNN)The White House is moving toward significantly upgrading the status of its alliance with key Middle East states, several senior administration officials said Friday, a move designed to affirm the U.S. commitment to the security of its Gulf allies as the U.S. negotiates a nuclear deal with Iran
White House looks to upgrade alliance with Gulf states
The officials said although the President has yet to make a final decision, the administration is likely to provide Major non-NATO Ally Status to its Gulf allies, part of a package of U.S. security assurances to be discussed at a summit next week between the U.S. and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
President Obama invited the heads of the GCC, a union of oil-rich monarchies -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar -- for the two-day summit after reaching a nuclear framework deal with Iran that has raised concerns in the Gulf and Israel.
Bahrain and Kuwait are already designated as such allies. Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, was given the designation by President George W. Bush in 2002. Bush then extended the status to Kuwait in 2004 for supporting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and serving as a staging ground for American troops.
Israel, Egypt and Jordan also enjoy Major non-Nato Ally status, as do Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Such a designation provides privileges only otherwise available to NATO allies, including special military training and assistance. It could also loosen restrictions on weapons sales.
The move falls short, however, of the formal defense pact several Gulf states are looking for. The administration is reluctant to provide a full-fledged security treaty akin to the ones the United States has with Japan and South Korea that ensure America will come to their defense. Such a legally binding pact would have to be ratified by Congress and could be met by stiff resistance from Israel.
But several officials said President Barack Obama is prepared to bolster assurances to Gulf allies that the United States would come to their defense if they came under attack from Iran or other outside forces.
"A written treaty is not feasible and it's not necessary," one senior U.S. official said. "But the President will reaffirm and strengthen his commitment to strong security ties to these countries."
Officials said the U.S. had already been making moves to reassure Arab allies of Washington's commitment to its security, pointing to U.S. support for Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and moving an aircraft carrier group to the Yemeni coast as a show of force against an Iranian convoy feared to be delivering weapons to the Houthis.