US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that Washington and the Gulf states are hammering out a new set of security initiatives in the Middle East to be discussed further at a summit next week. Kerry met with his counterparts from Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in Paris to lay the groundwork for a meeting between their heads of state and President Barack Obama on 13 May at Camp David.
Washington is keen to allay Gulf fears that the US is increasingly disengaging from a region riven by conflict, and that Iran could still develop a nuclear bomb under an international accord currently being finalised. The Paris meeting focused on crises in the Middle East as well as concerns among Gulf monarchies over Iran's growing influence in the region.
"The Camp David meeting will focus on the threat of regional terrorism, the metastasising of various terrorist organisations [and] the challenge of Iranian support in some of those particular conflicts," explained Kerry. "We are fleshing out a series of new commitments that will create between the US and GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] a new security understanding, a new set of security initiatives that will take us beyond anything that we have had before."
While he did not give any details about the planned initiative the secretary of state said that both sides were working together to "strengthen the moderate opposition in Syria" against ISIS and Bashar Al-Assad's regime. He also reassured the Gulf foreign ministers over nuclear talks with their rival Iran, and Washington's commitment to the region.
"Let me be very clear: our effort to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue with respect to Iran does not stem from any lessening of our concerns about all of these other destabilising events within the region and it's obvious to all, I think, that it's easier to address those events if the potential of a nuclear weapon has been eliminated from the equation."
The GCC countries are also increasingly concerned about Iran's growing influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The government in Tehran, however, has repeatedly denied Saudi allegations that it is arming Houthi rebels in Yemen. Backing a Saudi call for a five-day humanitarian ceasefire in Yemen starting on Tuesday, Kerry urged those who have been supportive of the Houthi rebels – hinting at Iran – to "encourage them to lay down arms".
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said that Friday's discussions on Iran alone took over two hours, with Kerry giving the ministers an extensive briefing on the technical aspects of the nuclear deal being finalised between Iran and the P5+1 powers (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany).