WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is expected to make a renewed US push next week to help Gulf allies create a region-wide defense system to guard against Iranian missiles as he seeks to allay their anxieties over any nuclear deal with Tehran, according to US sources.
The offer could be accompanied by enhanced security commitments, new arms sales and more joint military exercises, US officials say, as Obama tries to reassure Gulf Arab countries that Washington is not abandoning them.
With little more than a week to go before Obama hosts the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council at the White House and then at Camp David, aides are discussing the options in pre-summit meetings with Arab diplomats. Officials say no final decisions on possible US proposals have been made.
Obama faces a formidable challenge in deciding how far to go to sell skeptical Sunni-led allies on his top foreign policy priority, a final nuclear deal with Shi'ite Iran due by a June 30 deadline. Failure to placate them could further strain ties, though additional defense obligations would carry the risk of the United States being drawn into new Middle East conflicts.
Obama issued the invitation to the GCC after Iran and six world powers reached a framework agreement last month that would give Tehran sanctions relief for reining in its nuclear program.
Gulf Arab neighbors, including key US ally Saudi Arabia, worry that Iran will not be deterred from a nuclear bomb and will be flush with cash from unfrozen assets to fund proxies and expand its influence in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
US officials with knowledge of the internal discussions concede that Obama is under pressure to calm Arab fears by offering strengthened commitments.
"It's a time to see what things might be required to be formalized," a senior U.S. official said.