US ‘remains concerned’ about Iranian activities in other countries
RIYADH // The United States remains concerned about Iranian activities in other countries, secretary of state John Kerry said on Saturday as he sought to reassure Arab Gulf allies over the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran.
Mr Kerry highlighted Iran’s “support for terrorist groups like Hizbollah” after meeting his Saudi counterpart Adel Al Jubeir and other GCC foreign ministers in Riyadh, including the UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours perceive a lack of US engagement in the region, particularly in the face of what they see as Iran’s “interference” in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.
Those feelings crystallised with the historic international deal which this month lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in return for a scaling back of its nuclear capabilities.
Saudi Arabia and some of its allies cut diplomatic ties with Iran after protesters there burned Riyadh’s embassy in Tehran and a consulate in Mashhad city.
The violence occurred after the kingdom executed dissident Shiite cleric Nimr Al Nimr, a driving force behind anti-government protests.
Mr Al Jubeir said he did not see a “coming together” of the US and Iran.
“Overall I think the United States is very aware of the danger of Iran’s mischief and nefarious activities ... I don’t believe the United States is under any illusion as to what type of government Iran is”, Mr Al Jubeir said.
“Iran remains the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism,” he said, adding that Arab states are ready “to confront” Iran’s interference.
A senior State Department official earlier told journalists that the US understands Saudi anger over the embassy attack but “lessening tensions is an important objective”.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday said violence against the Saudi embassy was wrong, and against Islam.
Mr Kerry later met with King Salman and the monarch’s son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the defence minister.
He was also to hold talks with Riad Hijab, Riyadh-based general coordinator of Syria’s largest opposition coalition.
UN-brokered peace talks are targeted for Monday in Geneva but there is disagreement, including from Moscow, over opposition representation.
“We are confident that with good initiative in the next day or so those talks can get going,” Mr Kerry said.
On Saturday he and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov discussed by telephone the make-up of the opposition side.
“Particular attention was given to the need to form a genuinely representative opposition delegation,” a Russian foreign ministry statement said.
Mr Kerry said the Syria Support Group will meet “very shortly” after the first round of Syria talks “because we want to keep the process moving”.
The group has devised a plan for a political transition aimed at ending the nearly five-year war in Syria that has killed more than 260,000 people and displaced millions.
It includes Saudi Arabia, the United States and other countries who say President Bashar Al Assad can have no role in Syria’s future, and Mr Al Assad’s allies Iran and Moscow.
Mr Kerry spoke of the “urgency” of ending the conflict but said there are no illusions that there are still “obstacles” to finding a political settlement in Syria.
Saudi Arabia and Iran back opposite sides in the Syria and Yemen wars.
A Saudi-led military coalition since March has been supporting local forces and the internationally recognised government against Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels.
“We have made it clear that we stand with our friends in Saudi Arabia,” on Yemen and the threat from violent Sunni extremism, said Mr Kerry, who travels Sunday to Laos in South-east Asia.
Updated: January 24, 2016 04:00 AM