US will defend Middle East allies against Iranian unrest, says Kerry
WASHINGTON // US secretary of state John Kerry said that the United States would defend its Middle East allies against any Tehran-supported unrest on Thursday, as Saudi Arabia warned that it would confront any further Iranian “mischief” in the region.
The comments came after Mr Kerry met with Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir, in the Obama administration’s first cabinet-level meeting with a regional partner since the Iran nuclear deal.
The top US diplomat said he will travel to Doha at the beginning of next month to brief Arabian Gulf leaders on the Iran agreement.
“I will be meeting with the entire GCC and giving them a full briefing, download, answering any questions they have on August 3,” Mr Kerry said after talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir.
Meanwhile, Mr Al Jubeir said that all countries in the region “want to see a peaceful resolution to Iran’s nuclear programme”, but stopped short of explicitly endorsing Tuesday’s accord, saying that his country was still examining the deal and would need time to get questions answered. He also seemed to express some doubt about whether it would ever fully be realised, adding the caveat: “If a deal is implemented.”
However, the foreign minister said that he welcomed an agreement with a “robust and continuous inspections regime to make sure Iran does not violate the terms of the agreement”. He added that a deal should also have an effective and quick “snapback” mechanism that allows for sanctions to be quickly reimposed if Tehran violates the agreed deal.
Under the deal, Iran will win relief from crippling sanctions in return for dismantling and mothballing much of its nuclear industry so that it cannot quickly develop an atom bomb.
“We hope that the Iranians will use this deal in order to improve the economic situation in Iran and to improve the lot of the Iranian people, and not use it for adventures in the region,” Mr Jubeir said.
But, he warned: “If Iran should try to cause mischief in the region we’re committed to confront it resolutely.”
Gulf countries have remained wary of US overtures to arch-foe Iran, believing that the nuclear deal will only embolden Tehran’s leadership.
The meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Al Jubeir came as US president Barack Obama made a key gain on Thursday in his efforts to win over Democrat lawmakers sceptical of the Iran deal.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, expressed her backing for the agreement, saying it would have her “strong support”.
“I’m very optimistic about our ability to support the president” on the agreement, she added, referring to a 60-day period in which the US congress has a chance to review the pact and potentially vote to approve or disapprove it.
Elsewhere the diplomatic charm offensive continued, with prime minister David Cameron telling Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on Thursday that the nuclear deal marked a fresh start in relations and that he was committed to reopening the British embassy in Tehran.
Britain is one of the six world powers – along with China, France, Germany, Russia and the US – that struck the agreement with Iran after a 13-year standoff over its disputed nuclear programme.
“The prime minister expressed his hope that this deal would mark a fresh start in bilateral relations between the UK and Iran,” Mr Cameron’s spokesman said of a telephone call between the two leaders.
“The prime minister made clear that he remained committed to reopening the British embassy in Tehran.”
The British embassy was closed after hundreds of Iranian demonstrators stormed the building in November 2011.
Meanwhile, an on-camera, testy exchange between British foreign secretary Philip Hammond and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid bare tensions over the nuclear deal.
A day after telling Britain’s parliament that Israel would not have been satisfied with any accord with Iran, the British foreign secretary met with Mr Netanyahu to try and calm fears over the accord.
But their statements to reporters before their meeting began strayed from the routine, short diplomatic remarks to a full-on 20-minute face-off, in which both men appeared at times irate – and by the end amused.
Mr Netanyahu reiterated his objections to the deal, saying that it would allow Tehran eventually to obtain nuclear weapons whether by abiding by the agreement or “by cheating and overcoming a porous inspection mechanism”.
Sanction relief, he said, would fund Iranian aggression in the region.
But Mr Hammond gave a sharp retort. “You said we will lift the sanctions today. We will not lift any sanctions today,” he told the Israeli prime minister, adding that oversight would be effective.