US for Gulf missile shield against Iran

April 01, 2012 - 12:41:25 am


The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a meeting at the GCC General Secretariat headquarters in Riyadh yesterday. Talks dealt with bilateral relations and means of bolstering them.

RIYADH: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton here yesterday promoted a missile shield to protect Gulf states from Tehran and sought to work with them to help end the violence in Iran’s ally Syria.

Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal renewed calls to arm the Syrian opposition, describing it as a “duty”.

“The arming of the opposition is a duty, I think, because it cannot defend itself except with weapons,” Prince Faisal said during a joint news conference with Clinton.

In a speech to a first multilateral Gulf-US security forum, Clinton stressed Washington’s “rock solid and unwavering” commitment to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, all longstanding US allies.

In her prepared remarks, Clinton highlighted US concerns about Iran and talks with Gulf 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 defence, and coordinate responses to crises.”

US officials have said it is a US “priority” to help the GCC build a “regional missile defence architecture” against what they see as a looming ballistic missile threat from Iran.

The United States and GCC nations also pressed Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League special envoy on the conflict in Syria, to set a timeline for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to adopt a new peace proposal and put an end to violence against protesters.

“Given the urgency of the joint envoy’s mission, (US and Gulf foreign ministers) urged the joint envoy to determine a timeline for next steps if the killing continues,” the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement following the meeting in Riyadh.

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 neighbours.”

Western countries fear Iran’s uranium enrichment programme conceals plans to build a nuclear bomb, but Tehran insists it is only for peaceful purposes.

US Central Command chief General James Mattis has meanwhile warned that Iran was sending support, including “weapons, not just money” to Huthi rebels in northern Yemen, and trying to “influence the non-Huthi tribes” as well. Yemen neighbours 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 UN officials estimate has cost more than 9,000 lives. AGENCIES