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HomeMiddle EastJohn Kerry Wins Gulf States’ Cautious Support for Iran Deal

John Kerry Wins Gulf States’ Cautious Support for Iran Deal

DOHA, Qatar — Persian Gulf monarchies issued a cautious endorsement on Monday of the accord Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated last month to constrain Iran’s nuclear program.

“This was the best option among other options,” said Khalid al-Attiyah, the foreign minister of Qatar, who hosted a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council that Mr. Kerry attended.

In a news conference with Mr. Kerry, Mr. Attiyah said that the secretary of state had repeated his assurance that the United States would stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon if Tehran failed to adhere to the accord.

“We are confident that what they undertook makes this region safer and more stable,” he added.

Graphic | The Iran Nuclear Deal – A Simple Guide A guide to help you navigate the talks between global powers and Tehran.

Mr. Kerry and his counterparts from the Persian Gulf states also agreed on ways to expedite the military support and training efforts that President Obama promised at a meeting in May at Camp David with senior gulf state officials.

On the basis of Mr. Kerry’s assurances, Mr. Attiyah said the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council welcomed the American offers of support.

“He let us know that there is going to be live oversight over Iran not to gain or to get any nuclear weapons,” Mr. Attiyah said. “This is reassuring to the region.”

The nuclear accord with Iran was negotiated by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

None of Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East had a seat at the negotiating table. Israel is worried that the accord would delay but not eliminate Iran’s ability to develop an industrial-size program to enrich uranium and, ultimately, build nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia and Arab states in the region also fear that Iran would be able to use the billions of dollars it is expected to receive in sanctions relief under the agreement, and revenue from its future oil exports, to aggressively pursue its regional ambitions.

But instead of assailing the agreement, as Israel has done, the Arab states appear to have calculated that there was little to be gained from publicly criticizing a deal that stands a good chance of being enacted despite significant opposition from some American lawmakers.

Instead, they have concentrated on securing American support for their efforts to push back against Iran if its government continues its support for militant groups in the region.

Mr. Kerry repeated on Monday promises that Mr. Obama made in May at the meeting with senior leaders and other officials from the gulf states at Camp David.

Listing the steps the United States would take, Mr. Kerry said it would step up efforts to assist the gulf states, such as training special forces and increasing intelligence sharing, including of Iranian “agents of proxies who come in to try to stir up the population.”

Mr. Kerry also said that the United States would continue efforts to help the gulf states improve their missile defenses, increase joint military exercises and help the navies of those countries improve their ability to intercept Iran’s attempts to smuggle weapons and people.

For Mr. Kerry, the support of gulf Arabs was a diplomatic victory for the State Department and a political one for the White House in its struggle to secure congressional support for the accord, which is undergoing a 60-day review.

The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

While most of the gulf states have been skeptical of the accord, Oman has been a notable exception: It played a crucial role in hosting the back-channel discussions between the United States and Iran.

After his news conference, Mr. Kerry hosted a meeting with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Adel al-Jubeir, his Saudi counterpart, to discuss the crisis in Syria. It was the first time, Mr. Kerry said, that the three diplomats had met on Syria.

The Obama administration is hoping that concern over the Islamic State’s gains in Syria may lead Russia, which has supported President Bashar al-Assad, to take a more flexible position in discussions about a solution to the crisis that would not include Mr. Assad’s retaining power.

It is unclear if the Russian government is prepared to withdraw its support from Mr. Assad, or what Moscow would demand for Syria’s transition should the Kremlin change its stance.

Mr. Assad’s main military support has come from Iran, which has shown no signs of abandoning him.

In recent weeks, Mr. Kerry has mounted a two-pronged effort to win Arab support for the nuclear deal with Iran, arguing that the accord is the best way to limit Tehran’s program. He has also vowed to help gulf states defend against Iran’s “illicit activities,” including its shipment of arms to Houthi rebels in Yemen, its backing of Shiite militias in Iraq and the military support it provides to Mr. Assad.

On Sunday, before arriving here, Mr. Kerry made his case to Egyptian officials in Cairo.

“The United States and Egypt recognize that Iran is engaged in destabilizing activities in the region, and that is why it is so important to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains wholly peaceful,” Mr. Kerry said on Sunday. “There can be absolutely no question that if the Vienna plan is fully implemented it will make Egypt and all the countries of this region safer than they otherwise would be or were.”

Even before Mr. Kerry arrived here, the Obama administration had taken steps to reassure Saudi Arabia, the most influential member of the gulf council. Last month, the administration approved the sale of $5.4 billion of Patriot missiles and other military equipment. It also authorized the sale of $500 million in ammunition.

The Iranians have mounted their own diplomatic efforts to try to convince gulf states that remain deeply suspicious of Iran that they do not need to fear Tehran’s intentions.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, published an article in newspapers in Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait and Qatar on Monday appealing to Arab countries to cooperate. The Iran accord, he wrote, “does not hurt our neighbors but is rather a gain for all our region by putting an end to needless tensions that lasted 12 years.”

“Permanent security cannot be achieved by endangering the security of others,” he added.

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(via NY Times)