The US and Russia have offered their support to Gulf Arab states as the region tries to come to terms with the escalating conflict in Syria, the threat from armed groups and the fallout of the nuclear deal with Iran. John Kerry (above), US secretary of state, and Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, spoke at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Qatar’s capital Doha on 3 August, after a busy diplomatic schedule.
The GCC groups Qatar with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Kerry said, after meeting GCC foreign ministers, that he and they agreed that once fully implemented, the accord would contribute to the region’s security. However, in apparent acknowledgement of Gulf fears that the regional balance of power may be tilting towards Iran, Kerry said the discussions also covered their “cooperation in countering the destabilising activities taking place in the region”.
Kerry said the nuclear deal might or might not have an effect on Iran’s behaviour but that the US and its allies must plan for the eventuality that it would not. He also promised more weapons, more intelligence-sharing and army training for the predominantly Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states.
A ballistic missile defence capability, expediting arms transfers, special forces training, maritime and cyber security programmes and a significant boost in intelligence sharing were discussed, Kerry said. Working groups on those issues will begin meeting next week in Saudi Arabia, he said.
Khalid Al Attiyah, Qatari foreign minister, said Gulf Arab states were confident that agreement between Iran and the world powers made the Gulf region safer.
Most Gulf Arab states worry that Iran’s 14 July accord with the US and other big powers will usher in detente between the two countries and embolden Iran to support Shia Muslim paramilitary allies in the region. Last month, six world powers agreed to lift sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its uranium enrichment programme. The US and its allies suspect the programme is aimed at developing an atomic bomb, although Iran says it is for peaceful energy only.
In a later joint news conference with Al Attiyah, Lavrov mainly made remarks on the Syrian crisis, saying that any US military strikes in Syria that hit the army would complicate counterterrorism efforts there. Lavrov, whose country is an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said a settlement to Syria’s war needed dialogue between all parties. However, he said the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group was the main danger in Syria and neighbouring Iraq and that was why Russia supported the governments of both countries.
Moscow has been trying to bring about rapprochement between the Syrian government and regional states, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to forge an alliance to fight ISIL.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Doha, said: “This is quite a delicate moment for the Gulf countries. They are worried that Iran might finally be able to foster ties with the West, get sanctions lifted and pursue an active role in the region.”
Ahelbarra also pointed out that there are concerns about Iran’s continued backing of the Syrian government and the Houthi fighters in Yemen.