JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter gave a surprisingly upbeat assessment on Wednesday of American relations with Saudi Arabia, asserting that the kingdom welcomed the international nuclear deal reached with its regional rival, Iran.
Mr. Carter, who visited Jidda and held his first meeting with King Salman, also said the Saudi monarch would visit the United States this fall and is committed to fighting the Islamic State, the Sunni militant extremist group.
The defense secretary’s description of ties with the Saudis, which he made to reporters after the meeting while en route to Amman, Jordan, was unexpectedly upbeat, considering Saudi Arabia’s strong reservations about the nuclear negotiations between the big powers and Iran that yielded an agreement last week.
Israel, another crucial American ally in the Middle East, has strongly protested the Iran accord and bluntly conveyed that message to Mr. Carter during his stop there earlier this week. Israel regards Iran as one of its most dangerous foes.
Interactive Feature | The Iran Deal in 200 Words A short overview of important highlights from the Iran nuclear deal.
The accord will end economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for verifiable guarantees that its nuclear work remains peaceful. Critics say that the accord does not go nearly far enough and that Iran cannot be trusted.
The Saudis, along with other Sunni Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, view predominantly Shiite Iran as a regional adversary.
Appearing before reporters at the beginning of their meeting, Mr. Carter told King Salman that President Obama “very much looks forward to seeing you in September and sends best wishes.”
King Salman was not overheard making any promises, but he did say he was sorry he had not attended the summit meeting Mr. Obama hosted at Camp David in May, explaining that “during that time there was a difficult situation in Yemen,” a reference to the Saudi bombing campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents next door.
One of Mr. Carter’s goals in visiting the region has been to reassure Israel and the gulf Arab allies that the United States will not abandon them to improve its estranged relationship with Iran.
Saudi officials in the meeting on Wednesday did say they wanted to be sure that the United States would reimpose sanctions under the nuclear accord’s “snapback” provisions if Iran were deemed to be violating it.
Defense officials said they welcomed the Saudi restraint about publicly criticizing the Iran nuclear deal.
One possible reason for the restraint, foreign policy experts suggested, may be that King Salman, who assumed the throne in January, is widely viewed as more diplomatic than his brother and predecessor, King Abdullah, who, according to leaked diplomatic cables, famously told American officials that they should “cut the head of the snake,” referring to Iran and its nuclear program.
Graphic | Who Got What They Wanted in the Iran Nuclear Deal Here is a look at what Iran and the United States wanted, and what they got.
Since then, President Obama has offered Saudi Arabia and smaller Arab states new support to defend against potential missile strikes, maritime threats and cyberattacks from Iran.
Derek Chollet, a United States assistant secretary of defense until earlier this year, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that “the Saudis in my time were never hellbent against the negotiations.”
“The conversations were never, ‘Why are you doing this?’” he said. “They just wanted to be sure we had their back.”
That said, Mr. Carter continued a practice he has been doing all week: making sure to criticize Iran for what the United States considers to be other regional misdeeds. On Monday and Tuesday in Israel, he took on Tehran for backing Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization, against the Israeli government. On Wednesday in Jidda, Mr. Carter criticized Iran for backing the insurgent Houthis in Yemen.
“I think,” he said on the plane, “that we and the Saudis share a concern about malign influence by Iran.”
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.
(via NY Times)