Riyadh says US-Gulf talks over anti-Iran alliance “continuing”
WASHINGTON - Arab countries are continuing negotiations with the United States for new, regional security agreement to protect the Middle East from “external aggression,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Sunday.
An alliance of eight Middle East countries, to be called the Middle East Strategic Alliance or MESA, would “protect the region from external aggression ... and strengthen relations between the United States and the countries of the region,” Jubeir told journalists at a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh. “It’s a work in progress, and the two parties want to see it happen.”
"Talks are continuing between the United States and the Gulf states around this question and ideas are being drawn up", he added
The members – all US allies -- would be the six Gulf Cooperation Council nations along with Egypt and Jordan.
Saudi Arabia and allied Arab countries share with the United States an understanding that Iran constitutes a threat of external aggression, both directly and through armed proxies in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and other countries of the region.
US officials have said the creation of MESA is a top priority of US President Donald Trump.
“The one thing that is definitely rallying our partners around the region is a shared understanding of the threat posed by Iran. That core understanding is at the heart of whatever lies ahead,” Joan Polaschik, a senior official at the US State Department, said in public remarks in October.
MESA would have economic and security benefits for the member countries, Polaschik said. “Working together MESA holds the potential to build a strong shield against threats in the Gulf, and enhance trade and development and improve regional stability,” she added.
The Trump Administration’s effort to create MESA has generated some scepticism in the US, where officials recall a long list of weak strategic alliances among Middle Eastern countries that were modelled after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The US helped create the Baghdad Pact and its successor the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) in the 1950s to prevent communist incursions but the organization was never a strong military alliance and disbanded in 1979.
Acknowledging that “conservations are still in very early stages,” Polaschik said that the eight putative MESA members had not established the kind of shared values and vision that have united the 29 members of NATO.
“At the heart of any successful alliance has to be shared understanding, a shared world vision,” Polaschik said. “That’s something that quite honestly hasn’t been at the heart of this MESA discussion yet in the same way that we have the Atlantic charter that lays out those shared values among the NATO partners.”
One stumbling block, from Washington’s perspective, is the rift between four Middle East nations -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – and Qatar. The four nations cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in June 2017 over accusations to Doha of support to Islamic extremists and keeping close ties to Iran.
“We must see the Gulf rift de-escalated to achieve the progress the president seeks through MESA,” Polaschik said.