All eyes in GCC set on Washington as nuclear deal recertification date nears

“We will not neglect the vast scope of Iran’s terrorism.”-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Sunday 06/05/2018
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Riyadh. (Saudi Royal Palace)
Tougher line. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Riyadh. (Saudi Royal Palace)

LONDON - With the May 12 deadline looming, Arab Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia in particular wait with anticipation and concern for US President Donald Trump’s decision on whether to scrap the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly saw eye to eye with Saudi interlocutors on Iran’s regional ambitions when he visited Riyadh during his first foreign trip in office.

Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, are perceived as hawks on Iran, a point not lost on the Saudis.

“Our viewpoints were identical. There was a strong desire to intensify the work and mutual efforts in dealing with all these efforts,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said after meeting with Pompeo.

“As we mentioned in the past, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia supports President Trump’s policy towards Iran and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia supports the efforts to enhance Iran’s nuclear deal,” Jubeir said, adding that Iran must not be allowed to enrich uranium.

The Saudi foreign minister said the kingdom believed additional sanctions should be imposed on Iran for its violation of “international resolutions regarding ballistic missiles and for supporting terrorism and intervening in the affairs of the courtiers of the region.”

“Iran destabilises this entire region,” Pompeo said. “It supports proxy militias and terrorist groups. It arms — it is an arms dealer to the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Iran conducts cyber-hacking campaigns. It supports the murderous Assad regime as well.”

“We will not neglect the vast scope of Iran’s terrorism. It is indeed the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world and we are determined to make sure it never possesses a nuclear weapon,” Pompeo said, stressing that the Iran deal does not provide that assurance.

“We will continue to work with our European allies to fix that deal but if a deal cannot be reached, the president has said that he will leave that deal,” Pompeo added.

Saudi Arabia sees the 2015 deal, brokered by the administration of former US President Barack Obama, as having empowered the regime in Tehran, which has increased its expansionist activities in the region. Iran supports the Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen’s civil war, as well as proxy groups in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

The conflict in Yemen is a central concern for Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition in support of the internationally recognised government led by President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The coalition is fighting the Iran-allied Houthi militia, which recently upgraded its military capabilities courtesy of Tehran.

Since the start of the conflict three years ago, the Houthis have enhanced their military capabilities despite a UN-ordered arms embargo. The Houthis have fired ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia. The United States and other Western experts said evidence suggests the missiles were provided by Iran.

Not only is Iran’s support for the Houthis empowering the militia, experts said, it is hindering chances of a political resolution to the conflict.

A recent report by the Washington Institute urged the United States to do more to stop the smuggling of Iranian air-defence systems into Yemen and help the coalition “blunt the impact of evolving Houthi SAM (surface-to air-missile) tactics.”

The report added that, besides stopping the threat to US allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, neutralising the Houthis’ surface-to-air missile systems “may be prerequisites to a settlement” of the conflict.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz called on the international community to increase economic and political pressure on Iran with regards to the nuclear deal, warning that failure to do so would eventually lead to a confrontation.

“We have to succeed so as to avoid military conflict,” Crown Prince Mohammed said. “If we don’t succeed in what we are trying to do, we will likely have war with Iran in 10-15 years.”

Iran has warned that any change to the deal would have severe consequences.