James Mattis says Tehran's support for insurgences in Yemen, Iraq and Syria must end
US stands against Iran’s proliferation of weapons and funding of 'proxy terrorists'
US Defence Secretary James Mattis said on Saturday that Washington vows to end Iran's support for the proliferation of weapons and its funding of militias in the region.
Mr Mattis critiqued Iran's "outlaw regime", saying that it has fuelled insurgencies in Yemen and Iraq, backed Bashar Al Assad's brutal regime in Syria and fostered chaos across the region.
"The US stands against Iran’s proliferation of advanced conventional weapons and its funding of and technical assistance to lethal militants and proxy terrorists," he told Arab leaders in Manama, Bahrain.
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He reiterated Washington's support for its regional partners to defend themselves against Iranian-backed Houthi attacks on their territories and at the same time called for an urgent end to the fighting.
"Proxy forces [supported] by Iran’s regime doesn't lessen their accountability [and] we will stand against Iran's effort to enhance its nuclear programme," he said.
On Yemen, Mr Mattis said that all wars in the region must end.
“We strive to build the capacity of legitimate Yemeni forces, calling for urgent end to the fighting,” he said. "Compromise must replace combat".
He told leaders that there is no role for Iran in this conflict, stressing that diplomats should be allowed to "work their magic in Yemen. It's in the interests of the Houthi rebels to engage with UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths."
Mr Mattis called for support for a UN-backed political process in Yemen.
The US vows to ensure that weapons of mass destruction will stay out of the hands of irresponsible actors to counter emerging terrorist threats.
"Failure of any nation to adhere to international norms and the rule of law undermines regional stability at a time when it is needed most,” he added.
Addressing the Syrian conflict, Mr Mattis said that Russia will not take America's place in the region.
"Russia's presence in the region cannot replace the long-standing, enduring and transparent US commitment to the Middle East," Mr Mattis said.
The US official was speaking as Russian President Vladimir Putin was due to hold talks in Istanbul with the leaders of France, Germany and Turkey on Saturday seeking to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict in Syria.
Mr Mattis said that Moscow's "opportunism and willingness to overlook Syria's criminal activities against his own people evidences its lack of sincere commitment to essential moral principles."
Iran's support for the Syrian regime "coupled with Russia's repeated vetoes of UN Security Council Resolutions, is the leading reason Assad remains in power," he said.
On the death of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, the defence secretary said Washington will get to the bottom of what happened.
"We will maintain our twin imperatives, protecting America and our interests and holding those responsible for this murder," Mr Mattis said.
But asserted that it will not impact its historic alliance with the kingdom.
Adel Al Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, spoke after Mr Mattis and criticised what he described as “hysteria” over Mr Khashoggi’s killing in response to questions.
“I think people have assigned blame on Saudi Arabia with such certainty before the investigation is complete. We have made it clear that we are going to have a full and transparent investigation, the results of which will be released.”
He added that six officials have now been dismissed.
“We’re trying to uncover what happened, we know a mistake was committed. We know that people exceeded their authority. And it wasn’t 2 officials that were dismissed, it was 6 in addition to the 18 detained by the public prosecutor. So this is where we stand, we will investigate, we will share the results of the investigation, we will hold people to account and those responsible will be held to account and we will put in mechanisms to ensure that this doesn’t happen again," said Mr Al Jubeir.
"Wait until the investigation is complete in Saudi Arabia and in turkey and then make a judgment.”