DOHA // John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, began talks with Gulf countries in Qatar on Monday, seeking to convince them of the merits of last month’s nuclear deal with Iran and to discuss the battle against ISIL and the war in Syria.
Most Arabian Gulf countries are worried that Iran’s July 14 accord with the United States and other powers will hasten detente between Tehran and Washington and embolden Tehran to support paramilitary allies in the region.
Last month, world powers agreed to lift sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on a nuclear programme the West suspects was aimed at creating a bomb, but which Tehran says is peaceful.
Speaking in Egypt on Sunday, Mr Kerry said the United States had labelled Iran the world’s No 1 state sponsor of terror, but this was precisely why it was so important to ensure Tehran did not obtain a nuclear weapon.
“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,” he said, adding that he would discuss ways to ensure the future security of the region in Doha.
In Doha, Mr Kerry will meet members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
He will also hold a trilateral meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir, which US officials say will focus on the war in 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 ISIL.
Mr Kerry said last month that with Mr Lavrov he planned to discuss combating ISIL militants and the role Iran could play.
US officials say Mr Kerry’s diplomatic outreach in Doha is a follow up to a summit with Gulf Arab leaders called by President Barack Obama at Camp David in May, which was snubbed by the leaders of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
At that meeting Mr Obama responded to anxieties among Gulf states about the nuclear deal with Iran by vowing to back them against any “external attack” and pledging that the United States would consider using military force to defend them.
Mr Obama stopped short of offering a formal defence treaty that some Gulf countries had sought. Instead he announced more modest measures, including integrating ballistic missile defence systems and beefing up cyber and maritime security.
On Wednesday, the US State Department approved the sale of 600 Patriot anti-missile missiles to Saudi Arabia at an expected cost of US$5.4 billion (Dh19.8bn) as well as $500m worth of ammunition for various weapons systems.