Washington has agreed to speed up arms sales to Gulf states, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced yesterday after talks in Doha on their concerns over the Iran nuclear deal. His Qatari counterpart, Khalid bin Mohammad Al-Attiyah, told a joint press conference with Kerry that the nuclear deal was “the best option among other options”. Kerry said the United States had “agreed to expedite certain arms sales that are needed and that have taken too long in the past”. Following talks with foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, Kerry said Washington and its Arab allies in the region would also step up efforts to share intelligence and increase the number of joint military exercises.
The secretary of state travelled to the Qatari capital for meetings with the Sunni monarchies of the GCC in a bid to calm their fears over the nuclear accord with Shiite Iran. The GCC groups Qatar with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Gulf countries have expressed concerns that the July 14 deal between Iran and world powers would allow greater interference in the region by the Islamic republic. “We talked about the possibility, not the possibility, the reality of increasing the number of exercises that we are conducting together,” Kerry said. “These are a few examples and ways in which we believe the security of the region can be strengthened and cooperation will be enhanced.” Among the steps under discussion are developing a ballistic missile defense capability, expediting arms transfers, special forces training, maritime and cyber security programs and a significant boost in intelligence sharing, Kerry said. Working groups on those issues will begin meeting next week in Saudi Arabia, he added.
All of those are part of a package of programs that he said would build “stronger and more enduring strategic partnership with particular focus on counterterrorism and countering the destabilizing activities taking place in the region,” he said. Attiyah, for his part, said there was support for the nuclear deal among countries in the Gulf, despite their cautious reaction. “This was the best option among other options to come up with a solution to the nuclear weapons of Iran through dialogue,” the Qatari minister said, speaking in Arabic. He added that the Gulf Arabs ultimately would like to see a ban on nuclear weapons in the entire Middle East – a pointed jab at Israel which is widely believed to have the bomb – and that the Iran deal could be the first step in a process to bring one about. At the same time, he said GCC members remained concerned about Iran’s possible designs in the region. Kerry met Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, and Qatar’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al- Thani, before heading into the talks with GCC foreign ministers. He also held a three-way meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Jubeir on Syria. Russia has been trying to bring about rapprochement between the Syrian government and regional states including Saudi Arabia and Turkey to forge an alliance to fight Islamic State militants who have taken large amounts of territory in Syria’s civil war.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote an article published in several Arab newspapers to coincide with the talks, urging Gulf countries to work with Iran to counter a wave on instability in the Middle East. “We must all accept the fact that the era of zero-sum games is over, and we all win or lose together,” he wrote in Arabic, backing up his statement with passages from the Holy Quran. Nonetheless, Iran remains in a struggle with Saudi Arabia and its allies for regional primacy. A deadly bombing in Bahrain last week, which the government linked to Iran, was taken by many as a sign Tehran cannot be trusted. Kerry flew in to Qatar on Sunday evening after a visit to Egypt, where he also sought to assure Cairo that the landmark Iran deal signed in Vienna would bring greater security to the Middle East. “There can be absolutely no question that if the Vienna plan is fully implemented, it will make Egypt and all the countries of this region safer than they otherwise would be or were,” Kerry told reporters in Cairo. Egypt like other regional states remains suspicious of Iran, which has backed President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria and Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Kerry said the US recognised that “Iran is engaged in destabilizing activities in the region – and that is why it is so important to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains wholly peaceful”. “If Iran is destabilizing, it is far, far better to have an Iran that doesn’t have a nuclear weapon than one that does,” he said. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday that the July 14 agreement had improved the prospects of ending the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. “The final solution in Yemen is political, in Syria the final solution is political,” he said. “The agreement will create a new atmosphere. The climate will be easier.”