Saudi King Calls for Firm Arab Stance Against Threats from Iran

By Marwa Rashad and Aziz El Yaakoubi

MECCA, Saudi Arabia, May 30 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia convened emergency Arab summits on Thursday to deliver a strong message to Iran over regional security after recent attacks on Persian Gulf oil assets, as American officials said a U.S. military deployment had deterred Tehran.

Saudi King Salman told a Gulf Arab meeting, ahead of a separate Arab summit, that Iran‘s development of nuclear and missile capabilities and its threatening of global oil supplies posed a risk to regional and international security.

“It must be said that the absence of a severe and firm stance towards the subversive actions of the Iranian regime in the region caused it to go too far, as we see today,” he said.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have lobbied Washington to contain their foe, Shi’ite Muslim Iran, have said they want to avoid war after drone strikes on oil pumping stations in the kingdom and the sabotage of tankers off the UAE coast.

Riyadh accused Tehran of ordering the drone strikes, which were claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Thursday that evidence of Iran‘s being behind the tanker attacks would be presented to the U.N. Security Council as early as next week.

Tehran denies any involvement.

“The kingdom is keen to preserve the stability and security of the region, to spare it the scourge of war and to realise peace and stability,” King Salman said.

Tensions have risen between the United States and Iran after Washington quit a multinational nuclear deal with Iran, re-imposed sanctions and boosted its military presence in the Persian Gulf.

Bolton has said that Iranian mines were “almost certainly” used in the tanker attacks, which he described as being connected to the strike on pumping stations on the kingdom’s East-West pipeline and a rocket attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone.

An Iranian official dismissed Bolton’s remarks as “a ludicrous claim.” The Islamic Republic has said it would defend itself against any military or economic aggression.

Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said on Tuesday the country was not allowed to pursue the development of nuclear weapons as it was banned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority.

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Bolton and the U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, told reporters on Thursday that a repositioning of U.S. military assets in the region had succeeded in deterring Iran.

Bolton, speaking in London, said it would be a big mistake if Iran or its surrogates in the region attacked U.S. interests. Hook told a news conference call that the United States would respond with military force if that happens.

Last week the Pentagon announced the deployment of 900 additional troops to the Middle East and extended the stay of another 600 service members, after speeding up deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and sending bombers and additional Patriot missiles.

The United States and the UAE, which hosts a U.S. air base, on Wednesday activated a defence cooperation agreement signed earlier this year.

Gulf states have a joint defence force under the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but the alliance has been fractured by a boycott imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and non-GCC Egypt since mid-2017.

Qatari premier Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, whose country hosts the largest U.S. military base in the region, attended the Gulf meeting, the most senior Qatari official to visit the kingdom since the embargo.

[aesop_image img=”” panorama=”off” credit=”REUTERS/Waleed Ali” align=”center” lightbox=”on” captionsrc=”custom” caption=”Journalists watch the speech of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz on tv at the media center during the 14th Islamic Summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 30, 2019. Picture taken May 30, 2019. ” captionposition=”center” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Iraq and Oman, which have good ties with Tehran and Washington, have said they are working to reduce tensions. Doha, which shares a giant gas field with Iran, has offered to help.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that Tehran wanted balanced ties with Persian Gulf neighbours and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.

(Reporting by Marwa Rashad and Aziz El Yaakoubi Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty in Cairo, Guy Faulconbridge in London, Lisa Barrington, Sylvia Westall and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai, Eric Knecht in Doha and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva Writing by Ghaida Ghantous Editing by William Maclean, Andrew Cawthorne, Frances Kerry and Leslie Adler)