Iran's Arab neighbors want assurances nuclear deal not against them

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 28, 2013 9:53 AM
Iran's Arab neighbors want assurances nuclear deal not against them

MANAMA (Reuters) - Iran's Arab neighbors, deeply worried about Iran's nuclear program, want assurances that Tehran's deal with world powers will indeed enhance regional security, Bahrain's interior minister said on Thursday.

U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states, led by top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, have cautiously welcomed the November 24 interim accord as a step towards curbing what they fear is a secret Iranian program to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

"The initial agreement between the Iranian republic and the big powers over its nuclear file makes us expect from these states to clarify to the leaders and people of the region that the agreement that has been reached serves to achieve regional security stability," the interior minister, Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, said.

Addressing the start of a regular meeting of Gulf Arab interior ministers in Bahrain, he said Gulf Arab states wanted to be certain that the accord "would not be at the expense of the security of any member of the (Gulf Cooperation) Council".

"It is not a secret that we in Bahrain have felt (threats that) affect our security, with all foreign-related links to that."

Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet as a strategic bulwark against Iran across the Gulf, has suffered frequent unrest since 2011 when its Shi'ite Muslim majority took to the streets demanding reforms and a bigger say in government.

The Sunni Muslim monarchy in Bahrain and in neighboring Saudi Arabia have regularly accused Shi'ite Iran of fomenting the unrest. The Islamic Republic denies such accusations.

U.S. officials have said that the nuclear deal, to be the basis of a longer-term comprehensive settlement with Iran negotiated next year, will if fully implemented help make the chronically volatile Middle East a more stable, secure region.

Iran's only two Arab friends - Iraq and Syria - were quick to praise the nuclear deal, as was the Palestinian Authority which welcomed it for putting more pressure on Israel.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states, despite their mistrust of Iran, gave a qualified welcome to Tehran's interim deal with the world powers.

Israel, Iran's regional arch-enemy, has denounced the Geneva accord because, while halting any expansion of Iran's nuclear program, will leave its atomic fuel-producing infrastructure intact for now. Iran says it is enriching uranium solely for civilian energy purposes.

(Reporting by Farishta Saeed, writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by Mark Heinrich)