Saudi Arabia urges Muslim nations to respond to Iran with 'firmness'
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia's foreign minister on Thursday urged Muslim nations to confront recent attacks in the region that the US and its allies have blamed on Iran with “all means of force and firmness.”
Ibrahim al-Assaf made the comments at a meeting of foreign ministers of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation ahead of a series of summits in the kingdom beginning Thursday.
Summits of Arab and Gulf leaders are scheduled for Thursday while an Islamic leaders's summit is set for Friday.
Al-Assaf said the alleged sabotage of boats off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and a drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels requires the region to “make more efforts to counter the terrorist acts of extremist and terrorist groups.”
“We should confront it with all means of force and firmness,” al-Assaf said.
Iran has denied being involved in the attacks, which come amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the US. An Iranian official was at the meeting where al-Assaf spoke on Thursday, but Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did not attend.
“While summit leaders are likely to discuss how best to avoid a war, King Salman is equally determined to defend Saudi and Arab interests amid increasing tensions between the US and Iran,” Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief and envoy, wrote in an opinion piece published by Al Arabiya. He said the meetings of Gulf leaders and Arab leaders at midnight in Mecca would discuss Iran's “interference” in Arab affairs.
The US has accused Tehran of being behind the string of incidents this month, which also included a rocket strike near the US Embassy in Baghdad.
On Wednesday, US national security adviser John Bolton told journalists in Abu Dhabi that there had been a previously unknown attempt to attack the Saudi oil port of Yanbu as well, which he also blamed on Iran.
He also stressed the US had not seen any further Iranian attacks in the time since, something he attributed to the subsequent military deployments — America recently sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf. But Bolton warned the US would strike back if again attacked.
“The point is to make it very clear to Iran and its surrogates that these kinds of action risk a very strong response from the United States,” Bolton threatened, without elaborating.
Meanwhile Wednesday, acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said some 900 troops coming to the Mideast over the perceived Iran threat — to reinforce the tens of thousands already in the region — would be deployed in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Another 600 attached to a Patriot missile battery have had their deployment in the region extended.
“The Iranian threat to our forces in the region remains,” Shanahan said.
(AW and agencies)