Deal with Iran ‘will make the Gulf safer’

GCC foreign ministers reassured by new Kerry pledges on missile defence, arms transfers and sharing of intelligence.

US secretary of state John Kerry and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed arrive to attend the joint meeting between GCC foreign ministers and the US in Doha on August 3. EPA
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ABU DHABI // Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers welcomed the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers on Monday, following a presentation in Doha from the US secretary of state.

“We are confident that what they undertook makes this region safer and more stable,” said Qatari foreign minister Khalid Al Attiya.

John Kerry told the ministers that there would be “live oversight over Iran”, according to Mr Al Attiya, who said this was “reassuring to the region”.

Qatar currently heads the six-nation GGC’s rotating presidency. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed led the UAE delegation to the meeting.

The deal, signed on July 14, sees Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from debilitating international sanctions. After years of tensions with Iran, Gulf Arab officials had voiced sceptisim about the agreement because of outstanding questions over its details. Monday’s meeting with Mr Kerry was the first time the states praised the agreement as a bloc.

“Once fully implemented, the [Iran deal] contributes to the region’s long-term security, including by preventing Iran from developing a military nuclear capability,” Mr Kerry said.

Many Gulf Arab officials are concerned that once sanctions on Iran are lifted, Tehran will increase support to its regional proxies, such as Hizbollah in Lebanon and the Assad regime in Syria, and also increase its military prowess through purchases for its armed forces.

As part of an effort to support Gulf Arab countries, Mr Kerry said a number of working groups would begin meeting in Saudi Arabia next week to address key concerns. They will aim to develop the GCC’s missile defence capabilities, expedite the transfer of arms, increase special forces training, maritime and cyber security programmes and boost intelligence sharing.

Mr Kerry said Washington “agreed to expedite certain arms sales that are needed and that have taken too long in the past”.

The US state department last week authorised the sale to Saudi Arabia of 600 PAC-3 missiles and related equipment, costing $5.4 billion (Dh19.8bn), along with $500 million in ammunition for other weapons.

Mr Kerry arrived in Doha from Cairo, where he met Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi. Despite a fraying of ties following Mr El Sisi’s removal of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in 2013, the two countries appear to be rekindling their traditionally close alliance in the face of violence from regional extremist groups.

Mr Kerry’s trip through the region also coincided with statements from Iranian leaders that suggested the nuclear deal would lead to a new era.

On Sunday, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani said the deal created “a new atmosphere. The climate will be easier.”

Writing in Lebanon's Assafir newspaper, Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif called for talks between all Muslim countries under United Nations supervision to end the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Yet, despite the overtures, some regional observers still doubt Tehran’s intentions.

“We are witnessing an Iranian media offensive,” said Mustafa Alani, a security analyst with close ties to Riyadh, commenting on Mr Rouhani’s speech and Mr Zarif’s article.

“Our concern in the GCC is the Iranian interventionist policies in Bahrain, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. This is in the hands of the Revolutionary Guard and the supreme leader,” he said.

Neither Mr Zarif nor Mr Rouhani would be able to guarantee their overtures because of the power structure in Iran, which gives supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the final say on all matters.

Mr Alani said that while GCC states would not publicly oppose the nuclear deal, they would continue to demand clear commitments from Washington on how it will counter Iran’s “interventionist” policies.

In Doha, Mr Kerry also held a meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Saudi Arabian foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir to discuss the situation in Syria, where Moscow and Riyadh support opposite sides in the conflict.

* with reporting from Agencies