x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Iran talks 'cannot go on for ever', Kerry says in Riyadh

US secretary of state arrives in Abu Dhabi after talks in Saudi Arabia are dominated by Syria and Iran, areas where GCC countries have pushed for a more aggressive US foreign policy. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, second right, is greeted as, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, second from left, speaks with an advisor before the start of their meeting in Riyadh on Monday. Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, second right, is greeted as, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, second from left, speaks with an advisor before the start of their meeting in Riyadh on Monday. Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo

ABU DHABI // Talks on Iran's nuclear programme cannot go on indefinitely, the top US and Saudi diplomats warned.

Speaking alongside the Saudi foreign minister, Saud Al Faisal, the US secretary of state John Kerry vowed not to let international talks "become instruments for delay that will make the situation more dangerous".

Mr Al Faisal said: "We hope negotiations result in a solution to the crisis, not in its containment. Negotiations cannot go endlessly."

Mr Kerry held talks in Riyadh on Monday with the six GCC foreign ministers and the Palestinian president Mahmood Abbas before arriving in Abu Dhabi on Monday night. He was welcomed in the capital by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces; Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister for Foreign Affairs; and Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority.

Mr Kerry was expcted to meet senior UAE officials on Tuesday and discuss continued close coordination on issues such as the ongoing crisis in Syria, Afghanistan, and the Middle East peace process.

Mr Kerry's unannounced meeting with Mr Abbas raises the issue of Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, which analysts had suspected would be a Saudi priority.

Although Mr Kerry will not visit the Palestiian territories on his Middle East trip, Barack Obama is expected there this month.

The Saudi foreign minister said he urged Mr Kerry to resume US efforts to push for peace, including "a clear and specific vision and real and concrete steps, not cosmetic ones" that would lead to the creation of an "independent and viable Palestinian state".

But talks in Riyadh were dominated by Syria and Iran, two areas where Arabian Gulf countries have pushed for a more aggressive US foreign policy stance.

GCC ministers, who had been scheduled to meet in Riyadh separately from Mr Kerry's visit, issued their most explicit regional communique on Monday in support of arming the opposition in Syria.

"What is being perpetrated by the Syrian regime of brutal aggression that reaches the use of the devastating Scud missiles against unarmed civilians requires empowering the people of Syria to defend themselves," the statement said. It also condemned Damascus's allies for their "provision of the regime with weapons and aid".

The GCC ministers also called for a binding UN Security council resolution on Syria, stipulating a "clear methodology and time-frame for talks" to resolve the crisis.

"The Kingdom stressed [to Mr Kerry] the importance of enabling the Syrian people to defend themselves as a legitimate right before the regime's machine of killing and destruction," Me Al Faisal said.

Mr Kerry arrived in Riyadh after stops in London, Rome, and Cairo, where Syria was also at the top of the agenda. Washington has insisted it will not provide arms to aid the Syrian rebels, over fears they could fall into the hands of Islamist extremists who have gained support among Bashar Al Assad's opponents. But Mr Kerry announced last week that the US would for the first time provide rebel fighters in the Free Syrian Army with non-lethal assistance - rations and medical assistance.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are reported to be actively arming the opposition. Asked about this, Mr Kerry said: "The moderate opposition has the ability to make sure that the weapons are getting to them and not to the wrong hands."

However, he added, "there is no guarantee that one weapon or another might not fall in the wrong hands".

"The United States will continue to work with our friends to empower the Syrian opposition to hopefully be able to bring about a peaceful resolution, but if not, to increase pressure on Assad," he said.

On Iran, analysts had expected Mr Kerry to reassure Gulf allies that talks with Iran would not compromise security in the GCC countries, which have expressed concern that the United States could strike a bargain with Tehran to link resolution of its nuclear programme with ending the crisis in Syria.

The GCC "commended the position of the [talks] for not accepting Iran's demand to include the issue of the situations in Syria and Bahrain in any negotiations," the GCC statement said.

Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, said in a separate news conference that the US assistant secretary of state for political affairs, Wendy Sherman, had confirmed to Bahrain the US position not to link nuclear talks to other regional issues, blocking "Iranian officials who wanted to discuss the issue of Bahrain and Syria at this meeting".

During Mr Kerry's trip, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany met in Kazakhstan with Iranian officials in the latest bid to get Iran to prove that its nuclear programme is peaceful and not a cover for atomic weapons development.

Gulf countries have frequently accused Iran of meddling in regional crises, most notably Bahrain, a charge that Tehran has denied.

Mr Kerry will end his trip in Qatar on March 6.

edickinson@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press