Iran threat factors heavily in GCC’s UN agenda
LONDON - Regional challenges, especially threats from Iran, featured prominently on the agenda of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at the UN General Assembly, with the prospect of an “Arab NATO” edging closer to reality.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, speaking September 28 at the United Nations, said Iran has engaged in terrorist activities and aggressive conduct and that Saudi Arabia supports the United States’ strategy in dealing with Tehran, particularly by countering its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and its alleged terror support.
Jubeir’s remarks came amid reports that the United States planned a summit in January to introduce an Arab military alliance like NATO to counter Iran.
“Saudi Arabia believes that in order to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East, what is necessary is to deter Iran and its subversive policies,” Jubeir said.
“Iran has trained and armed terrorist militias, has provided them with ballistic missiles, conducting assassinations targeting diplomats, acts of aggression against diplomatic missions. This is sectarianism and interference in the internal affairs of the region,” he said, emphasising that such conduct is a breach of international law, for which Iran should be held accountable.
The “Arab NATO,” to be known as the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), was first brought up in July.
“MESA will serve as a bulwark against Iranian aggression, terrorism, extremism and will bring stability to the Middle East,” a spokesman for the US National Security Council said at the time.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has met with foreign ministers from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Jordan and Egypt to discuss the creation of the alliance, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
“All the participants agreed on the need to confront threats from Iran to the region and the United States,” the State Department said in a statement.
The alliance is to include the six countries that make up the GCC, as well as Jordan and Egypt. However, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt boycotting Qatar, partly due to its ties with Iran, there are questions as to how MESA will function.
“The real challenge facing the US-led alliance is to solve the Gulf crisis,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said at a news conference following the meeting.
Sheikh Mohammed, who spoke more diplomatically on Saudi Arabia and the UAE than at any time since the dispute between Doha and those countries broke out 15 months ago, said Qatar remains “open to dialogue” with Saudi Arabia and its allies and “we hope there will be progress.”
The drive for a united front against Iran comes as Tehran faces increased pressure at home and abroad. Iran has been strained by the collapse of the nuclear deal and looming economic sanctions that have led to protests in the country.
An attack September 22 on a military parade featuring Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that was claimed by the Ahvaz National Resistance, an ethnic Arab group that opposes the government, killed at least 25 people.
Despite the Arab separatist group claiming responsibility for the attack, officials in Tehran blamed the United States and Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the gunmen were funded by the Gulf Arab states. Khamenei vowed to “severely punish” those behind the Ahvaz attack.
A video produced by a media channel with ties to the IRGC threatened Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with ballistic missile attacks, with a voice-over by Khamenei saying: “A heavy punishment is under way.”
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash responded on Twitter that “the official incitement against the UAE within Iran is regrettable and has increased following the Ahvaz attack.”
“The UAE’s historical stance against terrorism and violence is clear and Tehran’s accusations are baseless,” he said.
Riyadh also dismissed Iran’s accusations in a statement quoting a foreign ministry official, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, saying: “The kingdom completely rejects the deplorable false accusations by Iranian officials regarding the kingdom’s support for the incidents that occurred in Iran. “Saudi Arabia’s policy is clear regarding its non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries.”