U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton here on Saturday promoted a missile shield to protect Gulf Arab states from Tehran and sought to work with them to help end the violence in Iran’s ally Syria.
In a speech to a first multilateral Gulf-U.S. security forum, Clinton stressed Washington’s “rock solid and unwavering” commitment to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, all longstanding US allies.
The Sunni Muslim-led Gulf Arab states are extremely wary of non-Arab Shiite Muslim Iran.
In her prepared remarks, Clinton highlighted U.S. concerns about Iran and talks with Gulf Arab foreign ministers ahead of a broader international meeting in Istanbul aimed at ending President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown in Syria.
Raising security ties from a bilateral to a multilateral level, Clinton is breaking new ground here in taking part in the first strategic cooperation forum between Washington and the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
She looked to taking “practical and specific steps to strengthen our mutual security, such as helping our militaries improve interoperability, cooperate on maritime security and missile defense, and coordinate responses to crises.”
U.S. officials have said it is a U.S. “priority” to help the GCC build a “regional missile defense architecture” against what they see as a looming ballistic missile threat from Iran.
Clinton said she looked “forward to discussing the wide range of common strategic concerns, including preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and curbing its interference in the affairs of its neighbors.”
Western countries fear Iran’s uranium enrichment program conceals plans to build a nuclear bomb, but Tehran insists it is only for peaceful purposes.
U.S. Central Command chief General James Mattis has meanwhile warned that Iran was sending support, including “weapons, not just money” to Houthi rebels in northern Yemen, and trying to “influence the non-Houthi tribes” as well.
Yemen neighbors the six Gulf states.
The United States also suspects Iran is sending arms to Assad’s regime to help him crush a pro-democracy movement that U.N. officials estimate has cost more than 9,000 lives since it erupted in March last year.
Clinton also looked forward to talks with the GCC on “ending the bloodshed in Syria and supporting the peaceful transitions underway in North Africa and across the region, and fully integrating Iraq into regional affairs.”
In Clinton’s talks here Friday with King Abdullah and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, the two sides discussed ways to tighten the sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, another State Department official said.
“They talked about keeping the global oil supply strong, and the essential role Saudi Arabia plays in that,” the official said.
The world’s largest oil exporter faces Western appeals to boost output to make up for shortfalls when European countries are due to stop importing Iranian oil in June as part of tougher sanctions agreed in recent months.
Clinton also discussed with the Saudis international efforts to send more humanitarian aid into Syria, and support opposition efforts to present a united and inclusive political vision for the future.
They also discussed tightening the array of U.S., European, Canadian, Arab and Turkish sanctions on Syria, U.S. officials said.
U.S. officials expected the GCC countries to discuss preparations for the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul on Sunday which is expected to draw ministers from dozens of Arab and Western countries.
U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on Friday urged Assad to immediately implement a ceasefire as fighting raged even after the embattled president said he had accepted the peace plan.