JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia’s leaders sought assurances on Wednesday that the United States stands firmly against Iranian “interference” in the Middle East, during a visit by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
Carter arrived as part of a regional tour trying to allay the concerns of US allies that Iran could still be able to develop an atomic weapon despite an agreement reached this month between Tehran and six major powers led by Washington.
The US defence secretary met King Salman, then held talks with the king’s powerful son Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is defense minister and second-in-line to the throne.
Sunni-ruled Gulf states are wary of the overtures to Tehran by Washington, their traditional defense partner.
Riyadh and its neighbors believe the deal will only embolden their Shiite regional rival, whom they accuse of meddling in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Anwar Eshki, chairman of the Jeddah-based Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, said he believed Carter would try to “reassure the Gulf countries, and the kingdom especially, that the US will not allow Iran to carry out activities that will destabilize the Middle East.”
He said Saudi Arabia would talk about boosting its defenses and “how to confront Iran” if destabilizing actions increase as a result of the nuclear deal.
The agreement, which ended a 13-year standoff, requires Iran to curb its nuclear capabilities including the number of uranium centrifuges.
International monitors will supervise the process, which in exchange will reduce sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
Saudi Arabia and Israel are “on the same page” with their concerns about the agreement, a Western diplomatic source said.
The deal would see Iran’s oil exports gradually resume and billions of dollars in frozen assets unblocked.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who Carter met on Tuesday, has voiced fears the nuclear deal will help fund Iranian “aggression.”
The Saudis also “think it’s a mistake,” although “they don’t say it as loud and as publicly as the Israelis,” said the source.
There are worries the Iran deal could spark a nuclear race in the Middle East.
‘A difficult situation’
Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir last week warned Iran not to use the economic benefits of the nuclear agreement to fund “adventures in the region.”
If it does, “we’re committed to confront it resolutely,” said Jubeir, whose country is the world’s biggest oil exporter.
In June, France and Saudi Arabia announced a feasibility study for building two nuclear reactors in the kingdom.