News / Middle East

Iran, Saudi Arabia Face Common Threat in Islamic State

Iran, Saudi Arabia Face Common Threat in Islamic Statei
X
Scott Stearns
September 04, 2014 8:51 PM
Saudi Arabia will be a big part of the Obama administration's push for an international coalition to fight the Islamic State extremist group. Iran is already in that fight, backing a new government in Baghdad and helping arm the Kurds. So how does Washington balance long-standing mistrust between Tehran and Riyadh with Iran's informal cooperation against the Islamic State. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

Saudi Arabia will be a big part of the Obama administration's push for an international coalition to fight the Islamic State extremist group. Iran is already in that fight, backing a new government in Baghdad and helping arm the Kurds.

So how does Washington balance long-standing mistrust between Tehran and Riyadh with Iran's informal cooperation against the Islamic State? 

In the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq, it is U.S. airstrikes that are backing advances by Kurdish forces.

But the president of Iraq's Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, says it is Tehran that is helping Kurds on the ground.

"We asked our friends to arm our forces and send us weapons, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was the first country that provided us with the required weapons," he said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif says Tehran is open to working on a broader approach to confronting the Islamic State group.

"We are prepared to talk at the international level with other countries and with the international community as a whole with regard to what is needed to be done in Iraq and in Syria and in this region," Zarif said.

With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry building an international coalition against the Islamic State, Iran's involvement in that fight, even outside a formal coalition, could be a problem for Washington, says former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.

"I think it could drive the Iraqi Sunnis completely the wrong way - I think it could create serious problems in our relations with Egypt, with Saudi Arabia, with other Gulf states at a time when we all need to coordinate much more closely again against a common threat," he said.

U.S. Institute of Peace analyst Steve Heydemann says it is the gravity of that threat that makes for unlikely alliances.

"Iran and Saudi Arabia are bitter adversaries around most issues and yet find themselves forced to consider the possibility of collaborating against an enemy that has expanded its territory of operation dramatically in the last two months," he said.

The advance raises prospects for such collaboration, says Georgetown University professor Nora Bensahel.

"We are probably unlikely to see the United State trumpeting cooperation with Iran, for example or the Saudis trumpeting cooperation with Iran. But it may lead to quieter, behind-the-scenes, increased intelligence-sharing, those types of things in order to address what is largely seen as a common threat despite other interests that may be very, very strongly opposed," said Bensahel.

Which is why Arab Gulf states may set aside their differences with Iran, says American University professor Akbar Ahmed.

"It makes sense. It's a very tribal configuration. This is how tribes and clans operate when they face a common threat," he said. "They unite for the time being, and perhaps they will continue their rivalry in other forms and at other times."

Ahmed says one of the clearest signs of a Saudi-Iranian detente is the enthusiasm with which Riyadh welcomed the new government in Baghdad - still led by Shi'ites backed by Iran but promising to be more inclusive of Iraqi Sunni and Kurds.

You May Like

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land In French Port

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching 'Fortress Europe' More

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

New Hints That Dark Matter Exists

New evidence from International Space Station hints at existence of dark matter and dark energy More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid