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Wed 14 May 2014 01:43 PM

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US urges divided Gulf to unite against threats like Iran

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel says most pressing security challenges in region need 'collective response'

US urges divided Gulf to unite against threats like Iran
US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel. (Getty Images)

The United States on Wednesday urged Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours to unite in confronting common threats such as Iran, even as the Arab states struggle to overcome divisions over Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

"The most pressing security challenges threaten this region as a whole - and they demand a collective response," US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said during opening remarks of a meeting of defence ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

"This approach is how the region must continue to address the threats posed by Iran," he said.

He arrived in Jeddah on Tuesday and met senior Saudi officials including Crown Prince Salman and deputy defence minister Prince Salman bin Sultan.

Most of the GCC's six members - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman - are wary of Iranian influence in the Middle East, but their responses vary from barely concealed hostility to diplomatic engagement.

However, efforts led by Saudi Arabia, Iran's biggest regional rival, to forge a united front against Tehran have been complicated by an unprecedented rift within the GCC over Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

While the feud prompted Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar in early March, Gulf countries, encouraged by Washington, appear to be seeking to repair ties, and in April agreed on ways to implement a security agreement.

On Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Price Saud al-Faisal said Riyadh had invited Iran's foreign minister to visit, hinting at a possible thaw between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran, which are at odds over the conflict in Syria and other issues.

Saudi officials, like Western powers, suspect Iran is working to develop atomic bomb capability, which Tehrandenies.

According to Iran's state news agency, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Tehran had not received a written invitation from Saudi Arabia but that a visit between the two nations' foreign ministers was on Iran's agenda.

The US-Gulf meeting takes place as negotiators from Iran and six world powers, including the United States, sit down for talks aimed at reaching a final accord by July to settle the standoff over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Hagel said heightened military cooperation could help Gulf states confront not only Iran but militancy and other challenges, suggesting several modest steps to bolster maritime, air and digital defence, such as establishing a joint US-GCC cyber defence initiative.

The Obama administration has also been seeking to reassure Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries concerned by US overtures to Iran.

"While our strong preference is for a diplomatic solution, the United States will remain postured and prepared to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon - and that Iran abides by the terms of any potential agreement," Hagel said.

SAM 5 years ago

Very confusing. On one hand, all indications show that the sanctions will be totally lifted and ties normalized in July 2014 between Iran and the West, including the USA. Could it be a set up, similar to that of Feldman's to Hariri in 2007? Personally, I would trust only those who have shown that they are trustworthy through their deeds, and who have also honoured their past commitments. The way I see it, nothing will please some people more than additional wars in this region; whatever happens, one has to realize the truth that the West's best interest has always been, past, present and future, with Iran; history speaks for itself. May cooler heads prevail.

Barry M Watson 5 years ago

The US is always urging other country's do something in the Middle East.
This is usually in the emasculation of another Arab state- Iraq, Libya, Syria etc

They also called for unity against Hezbollah [The only brave Arab group with the guts to fight back at Israel!]

Now the Common goal called for is Anti-Iran! [Surprise Surprise!]

The only initiative that all Arabs should be United in achieving-Is gaining Freedom for the Palestinian people!
The Arab peoples of the Gulf should URGE Mr Hagel and the US Government to join them in freeing the occupied Palestinians!