x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Saudi crown prince calls for stronger US-GCC military ties

“We meet today amid persistent threats to the region’s security and stability,” said Prince Salman at a meeting where US defence secretary Chuck Hagel met his counterparts in the GCC.

US defence secretary Chuck Hagel, right, sought to assure his GCC counterparts that America will not compromise the Gulf’s security in its nuclear pact with Iran. He was speaking at the opening session of the US-GCC Strategic Defence Dialogue in Jeddah on May 14, 2014. Mandel Ngan/Reuters
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel, right, sought to assure his GCC counterparts that America will not compromise the Gulf’s security in its nuclear pact with Iran. He was speaking at the opening session of the US-GCC Strategic Defence Dialogue in Jeddah on May 14, 2014. Mandel Ngan/Reuters

JEDDAH // The crown prince of Saudi Arabia called on Wednesday for stronger military cooperation between the US and Gulf nations whose security he said is under threat.

Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud made the remarks during the US-GCC Strategic Defence Dialogue in Jeddah where US defence secretary Chuck Hagel and his counterparts from the Gulf met.

“We meet today amid persistent threats to the region’s security and stability” that “necessitate coordination in politics and defence strategies of our countries”, said Prince Salman.

“The security of our countries and our people are in danger.”

The crown prince is also Saudi Arabia’s defence minister.

Prince Salman said among the issues of concern were “political crises” in some Arab states, as well as “attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and meddling of certain states” in the internal affairs of others, in an apparent reference to Iran.

He voiced hope that “cooperation continues” with the US, stressing historic and strategic relations between Washington and Gulf states have “contributed to cementing security and stability in the region”.

Earlier on Wednesday, in his opening address, Mr Hagel promised GCC countries that negotiations to contain Iran’s nuclear programme will not weaken their security.

Mr Hagel said that Washington is hopeful of progress in the new round of nuclear talks with Iran that are under way in Vienna.

He said the negotiations “under no circumstances” will trade Gulf security for concessions on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Mr Hagel’s comments coincided with a rare diplomatic gesture from his hosts towards Iran when Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal, said on Tuesday Riyadh had invited Iran’s foreign minister to visit.

Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian on Wednesday welcomed the move but said Tehran had not yet received a written invitation to visit Saudi Arabia.

“Visits of the countries’ foreign ministers are on the agenda of Iran,” Mr Amir Abdollahian told the state news agency IRNA.

The US-GCC meeting in Jeddah takes place as Iran and the US, France, Russia, Britain, China and Germany started the latest round of talks in Vienna on Wednesday, aimed at reaching an agreement on Tehran’s disputed atomic activities by late July.

The goal of the meeting is to start drafting the text of a final accord that could put an end to years of hostility and mistrust between Iran and the six world powers.

Wide differences must still be overcome, especially regarding the size of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, and a successful outcome is far from guaranteed.

Iran denies western allegations that it has been seeking to develop the capability to make atomic bombs, saying its nuclear programme is a peaceful energy project.

Mr Hagel said regardless of the outcome of the discussions, the US will remain “postured and prepared” to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.

US officials have struggled to reassure Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, over an interim nuclear deal with Iran that the Saudis worry will embolden Tehran.

The GCC has also been dissatisfied with Washington’s cautious approach to arming rebel forces in Syria.

The US-GCC meeting was expected to offer Mr Hagel a chance “to underscore US security commitments in the Middle East and to reinforce the United States’ unstinting policy of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and further destabilising the region”, said the Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby last week.

Mr Hagel is set to visit Jordan for talks on the civil war in Syria after his meeting in Jeddah.

*Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters