Politics, World, Middle East

Obama reassures Gulf allies on Iran

GCC summit was dominated by what Gulf countries say is Iran's interference in their affairs

Obama reassures Gulf allies on Iran US President Barack Obama attends the US - Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on April 21, 2016. ( Pool / Bandar Algaloud - Anadolu Agency )

By Hassan Abdel-Razik & Ahmed al-Masri & Mohamed Sabry

CAIRO / RIYADH, Saudi Arabia

U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday reassured the Gulf states that his country will remain vigilant against Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the Middle East. 

“We recognized, collectively, that we continue to have serious concerns about Iranian behavior,” Obama told reporters following the close of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh. 

“Our nations committed to continue to interdict illegal Iranian arms shipments, impose costs on Iran for its ballistic missile program and oppose Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” he added.

The GCC summit was dominated by what Gulf countries describe as Iran’s interference in their affairs. 

Obama acknowledged that mistrust has built up between the Gulf allies and the U.S. due to Iranian “provocations.”  

“People are cautious and want to make sure that nobody’s naive about what Iran may be doing,” he said. 

Obama also said that the U.S. and the Gulf states have partnered in the fight against the Daesh terrorist group. 

“We remain united in our fight to destroy ISIL, or Daesh, which is a threat to all of us,” he said.

“The United States will help our GCC partners ensure that their special operations forces are interoperable and GCC nations will continue to increase their contributions to the fight against ISIL and the coalition that [we] formed.” 

Four of the six-nation GCC are members of a U.S.-led coalition against Daesh, which controls vast swathes of territory in both Syria and Iraq. 

As for the six-year conflict in Syria, Obama said a cessation-of-hostilities agreement in Syria “is obviously under tremendous strain, including continued violations by the Assad regime.” 

"With regard to Libya, we agreed to keep building support for the new national unity government,” he said. 

Gulf summit to focus on Iran, combatting terrorism 

The summit, which begins on Thursday, is expected to discuss a host of issues, including combatting terrorism and Iran’s alleged interference in the affairs of the Gulf states. 

This is 7th GCC summit to be hosted by Saudi Arabia since the six-nation Gulf bloc was launched in the early 1980s. 

In 1981,Saudi Arabia hosted the 2nd GCC summit during which regional security was the main concern. During the meeting, the GCC leaders reiterated their rejection to foreign interference in the affairs of the Gulf countries. 

The summit also stressed support for the right of the Palestinian people for self-determination and establishing their independent state on the lands captured by Israel. 

In 1987, Gulf leaders met in Riyadh for their 8th summit, which was dominated by the Iraqi-Iranian war that broke out in 1980 and ended in 1988. 

In 1993, Saudi Arabia hosted the 14th GCC summit to discuss regional developments and violations of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein regarding its invasion of neighboring Kuwait. The GCC leaders also discussed a dispute between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iran over three Gulf islands. 

In 1999, the GCC leaders met again in Riyadh, where they reached a deal to unify their customs tariffs by March 2005, resolving a last-minute dispute that threatened their 18-year-old ambition to create a regional trading bloc. 

In 2006, the 27th GCC summit was held in Riyadh to discuss ways of establishing a GCC common market. This summit was held eight months after the demise of Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al- Sabah. 

In 2011, Saudi Arabia again hosted the 32nd GCC summit during which Saudi King Abdullah called for establishing a Gulf Confederation, a call which was adopted by the GCC leaders.

In 2015, the 36th GCC summit was held in Riyadh to discuss regional developments, including the situation in war-torn Syria and turbulences in Yemen, where the Shia Houthi militia seized control of capital Sanaa and a number of provinces in 2014.

The summit was also dominated by what Gulf states describe as Iran’s interference in their affairs, a recent nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran and a slump in world oil prices.

Ahmed Abdelsalam contributed to this report. 

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