x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 August 2017

Saudi Arabia leads nations in condemning Iranian foreign policy

Foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir tells conference Iran is propping up the government of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, funding the Houthi rebels in Yemen and violent groups across the region.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir walks to the podium to deliver a speech on the third day of the 53rd Munich Security Conference at the southern German city's Bayerischer Hof hotel on February 19, 2017. Christof Stache / AFP
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir walks to the podium to deliver a speech on the third day of the 53rd Munich Security Conference at the southern German city's Bayerischer Hof hotel on February 19, 2017. Christof Stache / AFP

MUNICH // Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Sunday rejected Iranian calls for dialogue saying Tehran was the main sponsor of terrorism in the world, a destabilising force in the Middle East and wanted to “destroy us.”

“Iran remains the single main sponsor of terrorism in the world,” Adel Al Jubeir told delegates at the Munich Security Conference. “It’s determined to upend the order in Middle East ... [and] until and unless Iran changes its behaviour it would be very difficult to deal with a country like this.”

Mr Al Jubeir said Iran was propping up the government of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, funding the Houthi rebels in Yemen and violent groups across the region. He said the international community needed to set clear “red lines” to halt Iran’s actions.

The GCC, especially Saudi Arabia, accuses Iran of using sectarianism to interfere in Arab countries and build its own sphere of influence in the Middle East.

The international community needed to set clear “red lines” to halt Iran’s actions, Mr Al Jubeir said, calling for banking, travel and trade restrictions aimed at changing Tehran’s behaviour.

International sanctions on Iran were lifted a year ago under a nuclear deal with world powers, but Republican senators said at the conference they would press for new US measures over its missile programme and Tehran’s actions to “destabilise” the Middle East.

US senator Lindsey Graham, said he and other senators were preparing legislation to further sanction Iran for violating UN Security Council resolutions with its missile development programme and other actions.

“It is now time for the Congress to take Iran on directly in terms of what they’ve done outside the nuclear programme,” he said.

Senator Christopher Murphy, a Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Washington needed to decide whether to take a broader role in the regional conflict.

“We have to make a decision whether we are going to get involved in the emerging proxy war in a bigger way than we are today, between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Israel added to the pressure on Iran. While Saudi Arabia remains historically at odds with Israel, their foreign ministers agreed that Tehran should be punished for propping up the Syrian government, developing ballistic missiles and funding Yemen rebels.

Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said Iran’s ultimate objective was to undermine Riyadh, and called for a dialogue with Sunni Arab countries to defeat “radical” elements in the region.

“The real division is not Jews, Muslims ... but moderate people versus radical people,” Mr Lieberman told delegates.

Turkey also joined the de facto united front against Tehran. Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticised what he called an Iranian “sectarian policy” aimed at undermining Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

“Turkey is very much against any kind of division, religious or sectarian,” he said. “It’s good that we are now normalising our relations with Israel.”

The tough stances were in response to an appeal from Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for Gulf Arab states to work with Tehran to reduce violence across the region.

Mr Zarif opened Sunday’s session in Munich with the call for dialogue to address “anxieties” in the region. This followed a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Oman and Kuwait last week to try to improve ties, only his second to the Gulf states since taking power in 2013.

Asked if Iran’s envisioned regional dialogue could include Israel, Zarif said Tehran was looking at a more “modest” approach by reaching out to the GCC. “We have enough problems in this region so we want to start a dialogue with countries we call brothers in Islam,” he said.

Mr Zarif dismissed any suggestions his country would ever seek to develop nuclear weapons. When asked about the new US administration’s tough rhetoric on Iran’s role in the region and calls to review the nuclear deal, he said Tehran did not respond well to threats or sanctions.

*Reuters