The absence of the new monarch from the meeting, called to build support for a nuclear agreement with Iran among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) about the United States' relationship with Iran, was announced Sunday by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. He said Salman would stay home as a five-day humanitarian cease-fire in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is targeting airstrikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, takes hold.
U.S. officials are attempting to avoid framing the king's absence as a diplomatic snub, but last week Secretary of State John Kerry was assured Salman would attend.
"There is zero tension," a State Department official told the Washington Post. "In fact, the relationship is as strong as it has been in quite some time. Our understanding is that the Saudis and other GCC leaders are quite pleased with U.S. positions and the substance of Camp David, including any assistance we are going to provide."
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef will attend the summit, representing Saudi Arabia.
Since the announcement, three other nations in the six-nation Gulf alliance have announced their heads of state will not attend. Citing illness, Oman's Sultan Qaboos will instead send the country's deputy prime minister, and Abu Dhabi will send its crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahayan. Bahrain will also send another official in place of King Hamad bin Isaa al Khalifa.
Only Kuwait and Qatar will be represented by their first-in-command.
"There isn't substance for the summit," the Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed Arab official as saying.
Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally, has been vocal about its worry that Iran's influence in the region is increasing. It is believed the Saudis seek written guarantees of protection from the United States, the longtime guarantor of peace in the Middle East, as well as U.S. consent to purchase advanced weapons systems.
Analyst Hisham Melham, the Guardian reported, said, "It's not symbolism that the GCC leaders are concerned with. Rather it's the nightmarish reality of the unraveling of a century-old political order and the fraying of a large swath of Arab lands around them, as well as an ascendant (and in most of their minds belligerent) Iran."
Kerry was vague after talks with the Saudis last week, only saying the negotiations were about "fleshing out a series of new commitments that will create between the U.S. and GCC a new security understanding, a new set of security initiatives that will take us beyond anything that we have had before."