News / Middle East

US Defense Secretary Visits Saudi Arabia After Afghan Trip

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is keeping up the pressure on Iran, consulting with close U.S. ally Saudi Arabia about how to respond to Tehran's disputed nuclear program.  Saudi support is seen as key to any effective approach in putting pressure on Tehran.  

Saudi government TV showed Secretary Gates conversing with Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud and emphasized "regional issues" were at the top of the agenda.

Other key Saudi officials, including Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan and intelligence chief Prince Muqrin also took part in the discussions.

Secretary Gates is visiting Saudi Arabia as the tug-of-war between Iran and the West over its nuclear program intensifies.  Saudi Arabia is the cornerstone of the U.S. network of strategic alliances in the Gulf and most of its smaller neighbors usually follow its lead.

Saudi Arabia has yet to officially endorse new sanctions against Iran, and last month Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal called sanctions a "long-term solution."

The editor and publisher of the Saudi daily Al Watan, Jamal Kashoggi, explained to VOA that Riyadh is urging the West to better coordinate its  attempt to impose new sanctions on Iran.

"There are two things: we are nervous and worried about Iran," said Jamal Kashoggi. "Number two: we are also noticing a disorganized or unorchestrated maneuvering by America and the West in general to move for sanctions.  They are asking us to exercise pressure on Iran without an international cover and there is no way Saudi Arabia will try to sell sanctions on Iran to the Chinese without an international mandate.  So, the West needs some coordination, together with France, Germany and the United States in order to get sanctions moving."

Kashoggi says Saudi Arabia is already engaged in quiet diplomacy to convince China and India to go along with new sanctions against Iran.

"Saudi Arabia still believes in sanctions, which is a long-term solution," he said. "But it is already participating in maneuvering leading to sanctions on Iran, working with India and China ... maybe not pressure, but Saudi Arabia will give the Chinese assurances and alternatives that your oil supply, we are here to fulfill your needs."

In recent months, the United States has been trying to reassure smaller Arab Gulf states of its commitment to their security against Iran's increasing arsenal of short and long-range missiles.  Gulf states complain frequently about Iranian attempts to stir up large Shi'ite minorities present on their soil.  

Iranian officials, meanwhile, have recently visited Qatar in a bid to stress Tehran's good intentions.  Iran, nevertheless, occupies three small Gulf islands claimed by the United Arab Emirates, causing some friction.  

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