GCC worried by lifting of Iran sanctions
LONDON - Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Riyadh, promising to protect regional security, was wary of the potential for Iranian “nefarious activities” bankrolled by the economic windfall caused by the removal of international economic sanctions.
“Saudi Arabia will not allow Iran to undermine our security or the security of our allies. We will push back against attempts to do so.” Jubeir wrote in an opinion article published January 19th in the New York Times, giving the first formal Saudi reaction to the end of more than ten years of sanctions against the Islamic Republic following last July’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Jubeir, speaking to Reuters, said how Tehran used the additional funds would be followed closely. “If they (funds) go to support the nefarious activities of the Iranian regime, this will be a negative and it will generate a pushback,” he said. “If they go towards improving the living standards of the Iranian people then it will be something that would be welcome.”
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies expressed worries the nuclear agreement would not stop Iran from building a nuclear arsenal and the lifting of sanctions would enable Tehran to finance Shia militant groups across the Middle East, destabilising Arab countries.
Asked about the likelihood of Saudi Arabia seeking nuclear weaponry of its own, Jubeir told CNN: “Saudi Arabia will do whatever it takes to protect the nation and people from any harm and I will leave it at that.”
Official reaction to ending Iranian sanctions from the other five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries has been muted but the media joined a chorus of condemnation.
“The White House is now liberating the Iranian regime from sanctions, enabling this regime to go on with its sectarian project and hostile practices,” wrote columnist Ayman al-Hammad in the Saudi pro-government Al-Riyadh newspaper, describing the removal of sanctions as “ominous”.
Manama analyst Tariq al-Amir, who wrote in Bahrain’s Al-Watan daily, criticised US role in the Iranian nuclear negotiations. “This lesson teaches us that the USA is like scorpions; it has no friends,” he said. “When Iran was under sanctions, it managed to occupy four Arab capitals. How many capitals will it occupy with the flow of billions on its treasury?”
Similar sentiments were in the Qatari press where Muhammad Ayyadi warned: “Contrary to the rosy picture painted by Washington, Iran will emerge more dangerous to the region in the future.”
Riyadh views Iran as a perpetual threat, because of its support for radical Shia militias, notably in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, where Saudi Arabia and Iran support opposite sides in the lengthy civil war.
The Saudi religious establishment also showed deep concern. A petition signed by 140 Saudi clerics, some of them prominent scholars, called on regional governments to be wary of what they described as Iran’s “record of criminality and treachery” and to support regional Sunnis.
The statement said the Iranian regime seeks to impose control and dominate the Muslim world through support for some governments, arming and mobilising sectarian militias and exploitation of minorities for political gain.
The clerics said the GCC should beware of infiltrators, citing cells affiliated with Iran that were recently uncovered in Kuwait and Bahrain. They said Iran’s “project” should be countered by any means necessary; economic, military, religious or through the media.
Saudi Arabia cut commercial and diplomatic ties with Tehran after Iranians attacked the kingdom’s diplomatic missions in Tehran and in Mashhad in protest of the January 2nd execution of a radical Saudi Shia cleric. Bahrain also severed ties and the United Arab Emirates downgraded relations. Kuwait recalled its envoy to Tehran.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, writing on Twitter, told his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif that he was hypocritical to criticise Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record. Zarif replied in a tweet: “Diplomacy is the domain of the mature; not arrogant nouveau-riche.”
Despite tough rhetoric from Emirati officials, the UAE has not severed commercial ties with Tehran.
In spite of the sanctions, Iran was the United Arab Emirates’ fourth largest economic partner in 2014 with nearly $17 billion in cross-border trade.
Iranians were the fourth largest foreign buyers of Dubai property in 2010, accounting for 12% of real estate transactions. According to property consultant Cluttons, that figure dropped 3% in the first quarter of 2015.