A skeptical US Secretary of State reassures Gulf leaders, Europeans over Iran’s nuclear ambitions

Saudi King Salman

Saudi FM al-Faisal addresses reporters at joint news conference with US Secretary Kerry. (State Department)

With a March 30 deadline for a framework agreement looming, US Secretary of State John Kerry spent the last few days in separate meetings with the Iranians, Gulf leaders and European negotiating partners.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the foreign ministers of all six Gulf Cooperation Council states as well as Saudi Arabian King Salman in Riyadh last Thursday after wrapping up discussions with Iranian nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif. The purpose was to reassure the Arab states that the US takes seriously the threat of a nuclear Iran and other forms of Iranian aggression in the Middle East.

Arab governments are reportedly concerned about the negotiations between the P5+1 powers and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program, fearing that a deal with Iran would endanger their own security.

At the subsequent press conference, Kerry told reporters, “We are seeking to show that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful and that we can block all of the pathways necessary to acquire the fissile material for a nuclear weapon…. I said that in Switzerland; I say it again today. It may be that Iran cannot say yes to the type of deal that provides assurances that the international community requires.

French FM Laurent Fabius and US Secretary John Kerry

US Secretary Kerry with French FM Fabius during meetings in Paris on Mar. 7, following Kerry’s joint press conference with Saudi FM in Riyadh. (State Department)

“Now, I also want to make clear, as I did in every one of my meetings today: Even as we engage with these discussions with Iran around its nuclear program, we will not take our eye off of Iran’s other destabilizing actions in places like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula – Yemen particularly. And whether or not we are able to reach a deal on the nuclear program, the United States will remain fully committed to addressing the full slate of issues that we have with Iran, including its support for terrorism.”

The US military is considering dispatching a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to the Gulf region, reports indicate. THAAD is an American-developed anti-ballistic missile system, similar to Israel’s Arrow 2 and Arrow 3, which could be used to intercept nuclear missiles from Iran. This would effectively place the Gulf under the US’s nuclear umbrella. The United Arab Emirates already owns one such system, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar are considered potential buyers.