Gulf Arabs welcome Iran nuke deal but seek further assurance

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Posted: Aug 03, 2015 2:58 PM
Gulf Arabs welcome Iran nuke deal but seek further assurance

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Gulf Arab states on Monday welcomed the nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and world powers but said they would like further assurances that the U.S. would help them counter increasing Iranian assertiveness in the region.

Speaking for the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar's top diplomat said Monday that the bloc had been impressed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's presentation of the agreement and explanations of how it will be verified and enforced.

"Consequently, the GCC countries have welcomed on this basis what has been displayed and what has been talked about by His Excellency Mr. Kerry," said Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah, whose nation currently chairs the group.

"He let us know that there is a going to be live oversight over Iran," al Attiyah said of Kerry's presentation. "This is reassuring to the region."

Kerry had come to Doha seeking to ease such fears and said the United States would continue to expand security cooperation with the Gulf states to counter any destabilizing activities from Iran or others.

"Once fully implemented, the (Iran deal) contributes to the region's long-term security, including by preventing Iran from developing a military nuclear capability," Kerry said, reading from a joint U.S.-GCC statement to be issued later.

He said that the nuclear deal might or might not affect Iran's behavior but that the U.S. and its allies must plan as if it would not.

"Every state in the region hopes that there could be a change but we have to prepare for the possibility and eventuality that it won't," he said.

Among the steps under discussion are developing a ballistic missile defense capability, expediting arms transfers, special forces training, maritime and cyber security programs and a significant boost in intelligence sharing, Kerry said. Working groups on those issues will begin meeting next week in Saudi Arabia, he added.

All of those are part of a package of programs that he said would build "stronger and more enduring strategic partnership with particular focus on counterterrorism and countering the destabilizing activities taking place in the region," he said.

During his visit to the sweltering Qatari capital, Kerry met separately with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to discuss Syria and other regional issues. The three-way meeting is unusual, because Russia has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Saudi Arabia and the United States have called for his removal.

Lavrov gave no indication to reporters after the meeting that Moscow was preparing to shift its support for Assad as he called for dialogue between opposition groups and Assad's government. Although he met during his trip with Mouaz al-Khatib, a former president of the Syrian National Coalition opposition group, he denied the meeting marked a shift in policy.

Lavrov also held talks with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who lives in exile in Qatar. The two leaders have met previously in Russia, in 2007 and 2010.

Al-Attiyah, the Qatari foreign minister, said the Gulf Arabs ultimately would like to see a ban on nuclear weapons in the entire Middle East — a pointed jab at Israel which is widely believed to have the bomb — and that the Iran deal could be the first step in a process to bring one about.

At the same time, he said GCC members remained concerned about Iran's possible designs in the region.

While Monday's talks touched on a range of topics including conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, Kerry's main goal during the trip was to follow up on a May meeting that President Barack Obama hosted for Arab leaders at Camp David. At that meeting, Obama promised Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates enhanced security cooperation and expedited defense sales to guard against a potential Iranian threat.

"Today we made progress on what we laid out at Camp David but clearly there is more work to do," Kerry said.

Just last week, the State Department authorized the sale to Saudi Arabia of $5.4 billion in Patriot missiles and related equipment along with $500 million in ammunition. Saudi Arabia is the largest and most influential member of the council and has been publicly supportive of the Iran deal, albeit with reservations.

Kerry's visit to Qatar follows one last week by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who also stopped in Kuwait and Iraq to present Tehran's side of the nuclear deal.

In a column published Monday in Lebanon's Arabic daily As-Safir, Zarif called on Arab countries to work with Tehran for the good of the region. He said the Vienna agreement "does not hurt our neighbors but is rather a gain for all our region by putting an end to needless tensions that lasted 12 years."

"Permanent security cannot be achieved by endangering the security of others," he wrote, proposing setting up a regional gathering for dialogue whose aim would be to respect each country's sovereignty and independence.

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Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.