Mattis and Mohammed bin Salman reject Iran’s regional ‘interventions’

Pentagon chief, James Mattis and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, both defence ministers, expressed “their full rejection of the suspicious activities and interventions by the Iranian regime and its agents”, the Saudi Press Agency said.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford greets defence secretary James Mattis at the Pentagon. Mr Mattis spoke with Saudi Arabia's defence minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the phone on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
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RIYADH // The new Pentagon chief James Mattis told Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that he would oppose Iranian “interventions” in the Middle East.

General Mattis and Prince Mohammed, both defence ministers, expressed “their full rejection of the suspicious activities and interventions by the Iranian regime and its agents”, the Saudi Press Agency said on Wednesday.

The two men spoke on the phone on Tuesday shortly after it emerged that Iran had carried out a medium-range ballistic missile test.

Saudi Arabia regularly accuses Iran of interference in the region and some of President Donald Trump’s choices for cabinet have adopted an anti-Iran stance.

Mr Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, has described Iran as “the biggest destabilising force in the Middle East”.

Mr Trump has opposed a nuclear deal struck in July 2015 between world powers and Iran that saw the lifting of international sanctions in exchange for guarantees that Iran will not pursue a nuclear weapons capability.

On Sunday, the White House said Mr Trump and King Salman, Prince Mohammed’s father, agreed on “rigorously” enforcing the Iran deal.

On Wednesday, Iran again denied that the missile test was a breach of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The comments from defence minister Hossein Dehghan came after the UN Security Council met on Tuesday to discuss the weekend test, which Washington described as “absolutely unacceptable”.

“The action was in line with boosting Iran’s defence power and is not in contradiction with the JCPOA [the nuclear deal] or Resolution 2231,” Mr Dehghan said.

He was referring to the UN Security Council resolution that bans Iran from developing missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.

“This test was in line with our ongoing programmes.”

“We have previously announced that we will execute the programmes we have planned in production of defence equipment meant for our national interests and objectives. Nobody can influence our decision.

Iran’s ballistic missile programme has been a bone of contention with the West since the nuclear deal took effect in January last year.

Iran says its missiles do not breach United Nations resolutions because they are for defence purposes only and are not designed to carry nuclear warheads.

US ambassador Nikki Haley told Tuesday’s Security Council meeting that Washington would not stand idly by while Tehran pursued its missile programme.

“The United States is not naive. We are not going to stand by. You will see us call them out,” she said.

Also during Tuesday’s call, Prince Mohammed said he “looked forward to working together to serve the interests of both countries and the fight against terrorism,” Spa said.

Prince Mohammed, one of the most powerful figures in Saudi Arabia, “underscored the US secretary of defence’s experience in the region”, Spa said.

Mr Mattis, 66, commanded a Marine battalion during the First Gulf War and a division in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In 2010, he became head of US Central Command which covers the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have a decades-old relationship based on the exchange of American security for Saudi oil.

But ties between Riyadh and Washington became increasingly frayed during the administration of president Barack Obama.

Saudi leaders felt Mr Obama was reluctant to get involved in the civil war in Syria and was tilting towards its rival Iran.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir has expressed optimism that the Trump administration will be more engaged in the region, particularly in containing Iran.

Saudi Arabia is part of the US-led coalition against ISIL in Syria, while US forces provide aerial refuelling and intelligence support to Saudi military operations against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

* Agence France Presse