Saudi Arabia has called for a decisive Arab stand against Iranian threats as King Salman convened a meeting of Arab states that condemned the Islamic republic’s alleged interference in the Arab world.
The king, addressing an emergency Arab summit in Mecca on Friday, said Riyadh wanted to avoid war and was willing to extend its hand for peace, even as he attacked what he described as Iran’s perpetuation of terrorism in the region directly and via proxies.
“Iran has been supporting terrorism for decades and threatening security and stability with the objective of expanding influence and domination, a matter rejected by international norms and conventions,” he said in comments carried by Kuwait’s state news agency.
He urged Gulf Co-operation Council states to work together to maintain security in the wake of what he called “criminal” attacks against four oil tankers off the United Arab Emirates coast and oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia earlier this month.
Four tankers were sabotaged off the port city of Fujairah, a development that has seen regional tensions peak. Pending an ongoing investigation, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have refused to apportion blame for the attacks.
But Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, on Thursday evening blamed Iran for the attacks, saying Tehran was trying to raise the price of crude oil.
John Bolton, the US national security adviser, said on Thursday that evidence of Iran’s responsibility would be presented to the UN Security Council, possibly as early as next week.
Iran rejected what it called “baseless accusations” of some Arab leaders at the summit.
“We see the Saudi effort to mobilise [regional] opinion as part of the hopeless process followed by America and the Zionist regime against Iran,” a foreign ministry spokesman said in comments carried by the state news agency.
At the summit, Barham Salih, Iraq’s president, warned that any mismanagement of Gulf tensions threatened to spark a war with Iran, which has influence in Baghdad.
Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, on Thursday told reporters that the US’s heightened military deployment in the Gulf was deterring Iranian threats, but it would respond with military force to any Iranian attack on American interests. “We are postured in a way where if we are attacked we will respond with military force,” he said.
But Mr Hook said he would wait for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Norway to publish the results of their investigation into the sabotage of the vessels before consulting with them on “the proper response”.
In a communiqué at the end of the Mecca meeting, the six Arab members of the GCC pledged their support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE to take required action in response to attacks on their oil infrastructure and tankers.
A statement published on the Saudi news agency said the GCC had discussed a joint defence mechanism at the meeting in Mecca, calling on Iran to stop funding militias and “terrorist organisations”. The group requested international assistance in preventing any future attacks.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, attended the summit, marking the highest-level contact since a Saudi-led embargo was launched against the gas-rich state in 2017.
Television coverage showed the emir of Kuwait, who has acted as a neutral mediator during the dispute, engineering a handshake between the Qatari prime minister and the Saudi king.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed the trade and travel embargo on Qatar, accusing it of fostering extremism. Doha, which denies the allegations, has since had to redirect air and trade routes, and forged closer ties with Turkey, Oman and Iran.
Any thaw in the Gulf spat would be welcomed by western powers frustrated by their regional allies turning on each other rather than uniting against Iran.
But western and Arab officials remain sceptical of the prospect of a quick resolution. Ibrahim al-Assaf, the Saudi foreign minister, said a solution to the Qatar crisis would be possible when Doha returned to the “right path”, Reuters reported.