Despite concerns, Iran’s Arab Gulf rivals greet interim nuclear deal with silence


McClatchy Foreign Staff

Arab states in the Persian Gulf on Sunday greeted the interim nuclear deal struck between Iran and the West in Geneva with sullen silence.

Despite their muted response, however, the Gulf states have watched the growing signs of reconciliation between the United States and Iran with undisguised horror. As the Geneva talks rolled into Saturday night and a deal edged closer, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah summoned the emirs of Kuwait and Qatar to Riyadh for urgent talks on how to respond.

The world’s largest oil producer and a staunch American ally for decades, Saudi Arabia has led the Arab world’s diplomatic push for the US to crush the Iranian nuclear program. In a U.S. diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks in 2010, the elderly King Abdullah was quoted urging Washington to “cut off the head of the snake” in reference to Iran.

To Arab eyes, a deal between Iran and the West threatens the entire balance of power in the region. If it is welcomed back into the international fold, the Iran’s potential as a hub for business, trade and tourism, buoyed by its massive untapped reserves of oil and gas, is enormous.

In the end, the three Gulf monarchs gathered in Riyadh said nothing. Saudi officials said they could not publicly criticize the Geneva deal but that deep concerns remained about Iran’s wider ambitions in the region, particularly in Syria where Iran has sent troops to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while Saudi Arabia and Qatar have funneled weapons and cash to the rebels.

“The concern is that by agreeing to curb its nuclear program Iran will get a free pass elsewhere in the region, particularly in Syria,” said one Saudi official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Most troubling for the Gulf states is the sense that their influence in Washington is waning. A former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud, S, Prince Bandar was installed as the kingdom’s intelligence chief last year to capitalize on the influence he wielded during the two Bush presidencies. But the prince has found the Obama administration a very different, more cautious, animal to its Republican predecessors.

“There is real fear that America is shedding all its responsibilities in the region, that our diplomacy has failed. We need to seek new alliances elsewhere,” said the Saudi official.

While hawks around the region talk of breaking ties with Washington, however, most are more realistic. The United States remains the dominant military power in the region and its support is essential to Arab security.

Despite its own misgivings, the United Arab Emirates welcomed the Iranian nuclear deal as “a positive step.”

“This deal has a narrow focus in the sea of problems we have with Iran. Syria remains a huge concern,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent UAE political commentator whose positions often reflect those of the government. “But overall the deal is a relief. Anything that reduces tensions between the U.S. and Iran is positive for the region.”

Tomlinson is a McClatchy special correspondent.

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

Palestinians gather outside a classroom at the Abu Hussein U.N. school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, hit by an Israeli strike earlier, on Wednesday, July 30, 2014. A Palestinian health official says 13 people were killed after tank shells hit the U.N. school in Gaza where hundreds of Palestinians had taken refuge from Israeli attacks. Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for a U.N. aid agency, says tank shells hit the school around 4:30 a.m.

    Shells hit UN school in Gaza, kill 15

    Several Israeli tank shells slammed into a crowded U.N. school used as shelter for refugees in the Gaza war early on Wednesday, killing at least 15 people and wounding 90, a Palestinian health official and a U.N. official said.

A Cambodian woman, left, helps her collage for sticking a court pass as they wait before a hearing to prepare for the genocide trial of two surviving leaders of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, July 30, 2014.

    Khmer Rouge tribunal readies way for genocide case

    A U.N.-backed tribunal on Wednesday began a hearing to prepare for the genocide trial of the two senior surviving leaders of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, under whose rule an estimated 1.7 million people died in the late 1970s from starvation, exhaustion, disease and execution.

  • Toyota remains at top in sales after first half

    Toyota remains No. 1 in global vehicles sales after the first six months of this year, followed by Volkswagen which bumped General Motors out of second place as the U.S. automaker grapples with a recall scandal.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category