On one hand, the announcement that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman will not attend President Obama’s Camp David summit of Gulf Arab monarchs on Thursday, despite having earlier accepted the invitation, highlights all over again the considerable strains between Washington and Riyadh. In the four months since Salman came to power, the Kingdom has defied the U.S. by starting one war in Yemen and reviving the most problematical elements in another, sending new support to the Syrian opposition forces that include the Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.
On the other hand, the king’s absence—ostensibly to deal with a brief cease-fire in Yemen, but widely viewed as a snub—will give U.S. officials a chance to size up the young fellow who the monarch has invested with immense new powers: His son, also known as the Minister of Defense, as well as president of the royal court. Mohammad bin Salman may be 29, as some accounts have it, or 34, the age offered in other reports. Or somewhere in between. The uncertainty speaks volumes about how little is known of the fresh-faced young prince, derided by the Supreme Leader of arch-rival Iran as “an inexperienced youngster.”