x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

GCC may have role in nuclear negotiations

The UAE and other GCC countries join talks with the six nations attempting to settle concerns over Iran's atomic programme.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, addresses the UN General Assembly in New York.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, addresses the UN General Assembly in New York.

NEW YORK // The UAE and other GCC countries have joined talks with the six nations attempting to settle mounting concerns over Iran's atomic programme. GCC envoys, invited by the UK, met with the so-called P5-plus-one group, comprising the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain, plus Germany - for what Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, described as a "fruitful meeting".

"We discussed the importance of ending this question and the importance of [GCC members] having a role in consulting with these [P5-plus-one] countries on the Iranian question to end these differences," Sheikh Abdullah told reporters at UN headquarters on Saturday. The meeting followed the disclosure over the weekend of a second Iranian underground nuclear plant under development near the city of Qom.

"The new facility is being looked at by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and it seems there will be positive co-operation with Iran for inspecting this site," Sheikh Abdullah said. "It will be in the best interests of everybody that this situation stays under control." Representatives of the P5-plus-one group are to meet in Geneva on Thursday, with US officials hopeful of having secured support from Russia and China for a new round of UN sanctions against Iran.

Jeffrey Feltman, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told reporters on Saturday that GCC members "have requested that we have ongoing consultations with them about Iran". Speaking before a meeting between GCC foreign ministers and the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, on Saturday, Mr Feltman described "ongoing consultation with our Gulf friends about what is our policy toward Iran and how are we going to address the October 1st dialogue with Iran".

"There's a profound concern on their part that we not do anything that would sort of trade their interests for our interests," Mr Feltman added. A statement after a meeting of foreign ministers from the GCC, the United States, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq on Saturday expressed "hope that the planned meeting ... on October 1 will begin a process that resolves international concerns about Iran's nuclear activities".

Gulf countries should get involved in talks over Iran's nuclear programme, the Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said on Thursday after a meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) nations on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. "The states of the Gulf have a strong interest in being involved on Iranian nuclear issues," Mr Frattini told reporters, while suggesting that such Asian nations as India and South Korea could also play a role.

On Friday, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told a press conference in midtown Manhattan that he did not object to members of the six-nation GCC joining the P5-plus-one group for the talks in Switzerland. "Principally, we are not opposed to anyone being present in the talks, but it needs some planning," Mr Ahmadinejad said. "In our talks, we are always searching for humane solutions in order to resolve world problems.

"We are trying to organise a collective gathering that can resolve world problems. Now the five-plus-one group and us can sit down, make some plans and then obviously everyone can be invited to join in and resolve global concerns." The Iranian leader described good relations and substantial trade with the GCC, adding that other nations - understood to mean the US - should avoid military involvement in the region.

"Our interests, our security are all common to one another ... we think that the regional countries in the Persian Gulf know on their own how to establish security in the region, and it doesn't need anyone else's intervention." Gulf leaders have repeatedly urged Iran to comply with the international community over its uranium enrichment programme, while analysts say they are increasingly fearful of a nuclear-armed Iran.

At the opening of Friday's G20 summit in Pittsburgh, the US president, Barack Obama, branded Iran's attempts to conceal its second nuclear plant as a "direct challenge" to global non-proliferation and a threat to peace in the region. @Email:jreinl@thenational.ae