Posts Tagged ‘Gulf’

Qatar ‘extremely comfortable’ despite sanctions, markets stabilize — Iran and Morocco send food

June 13, 2017

Reuters

Tue Jun 13, 2017 | 3:19am EDT

By John Davison and Andrew Torchia | DOHA/DUBAI
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Qatar’s financial markets stabilized on Monday after a week of losses as the government showed it could keep the economy running in the face of sanctions by its neighbors.

The finance minister of the world’s richest country per capita played down the economic toll of the confrontation, and said the government was “extremely comfortable” with its financial position, with the resources to endure the pressure.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar a week ago, accusing it of fomenting regional unrest, supporting terrorism and getting too close to Iran, all of which Doha denies.

The biggest diplomatic rift in years among the rich states of the Gulf has disrupted Qatar’s imports of food and other materials and caused some foreign banks to scale back business.

On Monday, it was becoming clear that Qatar could keep the economic damage from becoming critical. Some of its food factories were working extra shifts to process imports from nations outside the Gulf, such as Brazil. Shipping lines have re-routed container traffic via Oman instead of the UAE.

Such measures may involve delays and raise costs for Qatar; on Monday Fitch put Qatar’s AA credit rating on Rating Watch Negative, saying a sustained crisis could hurt its credit outlook. But they are unlikely to prevent the economy from functioning in any fundamental way, economists say.

The diplomatic confrontation has become a major test for the United States, which is closely allied to the countries on both sides. Qatar hosts the Middle East headquarters for U.S. air forces; Bahrain hosts the main base for the U.S. Navy.

Image result for food processing, Qatar, photos

As the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, Qatar’s wealth has allowed it to crown its small Gulf peninsula with skyscrapers. It has also given the government the means to take an outsized role in regional affairs, sponsoring factions in revolts and civil wars and brokering peace deals across the Middle East. Several neighbors have been furious for years.

“STARVE THE BEAST”

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump, who has strongly backed the countries imposing sanctions on Qatar despite a more neutral stance taken by the State Department and Pentagon, said the measures were helping to stop terrorism funding.

A logo of Qatar Airways is seen at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

“One of the big things that we did and you are seeing it now is Qatar and all of the things that are actually going on in a very positive fashion. We are stopping the funding of terrorism,” he said during a photo call with cabinet officials. “We are going to starve the beast.”

Image may contain: one or more people, indoor and food

Qatari Food companies step in to fill the void.  Workers work in a meat processing plant in Doha, Qatar, June 10, 2017. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Thani told a news conference in France that Qatar “still had no clue” why the nations cut ties. He denied that Qatar supported groups like the Muslim Brotherhood that its neighbors oppose, or had warm ties with their enemy Iran.

So far, the measures do not seem to have caused a serious shortages of supplies in shops. Some people have even joked about being “blockaded” inside the world’s richest country: a Twitter page called “Doha under siege” pokes fun at the prospect of readying “escape yachts”, stocking up on caviar and trading Rolex watches for espresso.

But an economic downturn could have more dire consequences for the vast majority of Qatar’s 2.7 million residents, who are not citizens but foreign workers. Migrant laborers make up 90 percent of Qatar’s population, mostly unskilled and dependent on construction projects such as building stadiums for the 2022 soccer World Cup.

In an interview with CNBC television — one of the first public appearances by a Qatari economic policy maker since the crisis erupted — Finance Minister Ali Sherif al-Emadi said the government was “extremely comfortable with our positions, our investments and liquidity in our systems”.

The energy sector and economy are essentially operating as normal and no serious impact has been felt on supplies of food or other goods. Qatar can import goods from Turkey, the Far East or Europe and will respond to the crisis by diversifying its economy even more, he told CNBC.

“Our reserves and investment funds are more than 250 percent of gross domestic product, so I don’t think there is any reason that people need to be concerned about what’s happening or any speculation on the Qatari riyal.”

Jason Tuvey, a Middle East economist at London-based Capital Economics, said that as long as the other Gulf countries did not interfere with Qatar’s gas exports, the tiny state should be able to carry on without a serious recession.

“It seems Qatar would be able to weather quite a prolonged period of sanctions,” he said, adding that economic growth, fueled by government spending and infrastructure projects, was “highly unlikely to grind to halt”.

Qatar, like other Gulf states, has tried to diversify from oil and gas. The sanctions have hurt one of its highest-profile enterprises, fast-growing airline Qatar Airways, which says it has been cut it off from 18 of its destinations.

“It is actually a travesty of civilized behavior to close airline offices. Airlines offices are not political arms,” CEO Akbar Al Baker told CNN. “We were sealed as if it was a criminal organization. We were not allowed to give refunds to our passengers.”

He added that he was “extremely disappointed” in Trump. Washington “should be the leader trying to break this blockade and not sitting and watching what’s going on and putting fuel on (the) fire.”

UNDERPINNED BY WEALTH FUND

Qatar’s riyal currency, pegged at 3.64 to the U.S. dollar, was under pressure last week as banks reacted nervously to the diplomatic rift. On Monday, the currency came off last week’s lows in the spot QAR= and offshore forwards markets QAR1Y=W.

Bankers said the central bank, which has $34.5 billion of net foreign reserves backed by an estimated hundreds of billions of dollars of assets in Doha’s sovereign wealth fund, was supplying enough dollars to keep exchange rates under control.

The cost of insuring Qatar’s sovereign debt against default QAGV5YUSAC=MG fell back for the first time in a week. Yields on Doha’s international bonds XS140578215=TE dropped almost 10 basis points and the stock market .QSI stabilized after sliding 8.7 percent in the past week.

Tuvey said the main threat to the economy was that Qatari banks could find it much harder to obtain wholesale funding from other banks to sustain growth in their loan portfolios. However, if the situation becomes critical, the Qatari government can liquidate some of its overseas assets to fund its banks, as Saudi Arabia did last year when its banks faced a squeeze.

Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has major stakes in top Western companies such as Credit Suisse (CSGN.S). Asked by CNBC whether it might now sell some of those stakes to raise money, Emadi indicated this was not on the cards for now.

Qatar’s normally bustling border with Saudi Arabia was deserted on Monday. Soldiers in an armored pick-up truck looked out over barbed-wire at sprawling dustland separating Qatar from Saudi Arabia. Indian migrants who work at the border in green uniforms lay on inspection platforms sheltering from the sun.

Normally, thousands of passengers and hundreds of trucks from Saudi Arabia pass through the crossing each day, bringing fruit and vegetables, as well as construction materials.

(Additional reporting by Tom Finn and Ibrahim Saber at the Abu Samra border crossing and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Peter Graff and Peter Millership, Larry King)

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Reuters

Tue Jun 13, 2017 | 3:19am EDT

Morocco says will send food to Qatar after Gulf states cut ties

Morocco said it would send plane-loads of food to Qatar to boost supplies there after Gulf Arab states cut diplomatic and economic ties with Doha.

Qatar, which imported 80 percent of its food from bigger Gulf Arab neighbors before the diplomatic shutdown, has also been talking to Iran and Turkey to secure food and water.

“This decision was made in conformity with Islamic precepts that call for solidarity and mutual aid between Muslim people, notably during this holy month of Ramadan,” the Moroccan foreign ministry statement said on Monday.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain accuse Qatar of supporting militants – an allegation dismissed by Doha.

On Sunday, Morocco said it would remain neutral in the dispute, offering to mediate between the Gulf countries, which are all close allies to the North African kingdom.

Qatar’s finance minister said on Monday the world’s richest country per capita has the resources to endure and played down the economic toll of the confrontation.

(Reporting by Samia Errazzouki; Editing by Patrick Markey and Andrew Heavens)

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Gulf air embargo only applies to Qatari companies, says UAE

June 13, 2017

AFP, France 24 and Reuters

© Frederic Brown, AFP | File photo taken on March 21, 2017 shows a Qatar Airways aircraft coming in for a landing at Los Angeles International Airport.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-06-13

The air embargo imposed on Qatar only applies to airlines from Qatar or registered there, the United Arab Emirates Civil Aviation Authority said Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain issued identical statements on the air embargo, which came into effect when Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama broke off relations with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting “terrorism”.

The embargo bans “all Qatari aviation companies and aircraft registered in the state of Qatar” from landing or flying through the airspace of the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, according to the statements published by the national agencies of the three countries.

The ban does not apply to aviation companies and aircraft not registered in Qatar and the three neighbouring countries, and even those which wish to cross their airspace to and from Qatar, they said.

The three countries’ aviation bodies also said non-Qatari private and chartered flights from Qatar must submit requests to them at least 24 hours before crossing the airspace.

The request should include a list of names and nationalities of crews and passengers, and the cargo carried by the aircraft, they said.

Qatar asks UN body to rule the ban illegal

On Monday, Qatar Airways called on the UN’s aviation body, the International Civil Aviation Organization, to declare the Gulf boycott illegal and a violation of a 1944 convention on international air transport, also called the Chicago Convention.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said the move by Saudi Arabia and its allies was an “illegal blockade”.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain are among several countries which last week announced the suspension of all ties to Qatar, over what they claim is the state’s support for extremist groups and its political proximity to Shiite Iran.

QATAR’S ISOLATION IS A REGIONAL POWER PLAY

Riyadh has insisted that closing its airspace to Qatari flights was within its sovereign rights to protect its citizens from any threat.

Responding to the Qatari appeal, the UAE General Aviation Authority said it is fully committed to the Chicago Convention, but the state reserves the sovereign right under international law to take any precautionary measures to protect its national security if necessary, according to UAE state news agency WAM.

Qatar has denied the allegations and has vowed to fight the air and sea blockades in international forums.

Furthermore, international human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also slammed the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE for “toying” with the lives of thousands of ordinary citizens affected by the blockade.

The blockade is widely seen as a way to punish Qatar for its good relations with Tehran, as part of the larger struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Human rights of potentially thousands of people in Gulf affected by steps imposed after political dispute with Qatar http://amn.st/60108lv6O 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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Obama expected to push for Gulf missile defense at U.S. summit

May 6, 2015

WASHINGTON |

U.S. President Barack Obama plays host to a Cinco de Mayo reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington May 5, 2015.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Gulf states ‘could expand anti-IS role to ground troops’

October 11, 2014

AFP

Gulf monarchies taking part in US-led air strikes against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria could deploy special forces on the ground but only if certain conditions are met, analysts say.

Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have joined air strikes on the IS, which has seized swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

But they want to assess their potential gains and fear that Shiite-majority Iran may emerge the ultimate winner, the experts added.

Any decision by Gulf states to send in troops would depend on whether Turkey decides to use its own ground forces, according to Mathieu Guidere, professor of Middle East Studies at Toulouse University.

“A ground intervention from Arab countries depends on the Turkish decision to engage or not ground troops. We are likely to see Arab boots on the ground if Turkish forces engage in the Syrian territory,” he said.

Turkish forces are gathered along the Syrian border across from the strategic town of Kobane, but Ankara has been reluctant to use them to tackle advancing IS militants.

Frederic Wehrey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the Gulf role in strikes on Syria to date was “somewhere between purely symbolic and fully operational”.

If the Gulf states did step up their role, Wehrey said it would likely take the form of deploying special forces.

Such units would not be involved in actual combat but rather staff “operations rooms, coordinate weapons flows, collaborate on intelligence collection, advise and equip the (Syrian) opposition,” he added.

He pointed out the Gulf militaries played a similar role in shoring up Libyan rebels battling to overthrow the country’s longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi in the 2011 uprising.

– Iran the winner? –

In the Emirati daily Gulf News, a headline said regional states were “on the right side of the fight against extremist ideology,” which “threatens their own stability”.

But some commentators are asking what the monarchies stand to gain from the US, which could pull out abruptly once its own goals have been achieved.

Gulf states have thrown their weight behind rebel groups which have been battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since March 2011.

“I think the end state for these participating Gulf countries is a sort of quid pro quo whereby the US eventually expands the strikes to Assad’s forces,” said Wehrey.

But others are more doubtful about what the countries stand to gain.

“America is far from frank about its true intentions,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, political science professor at the University of the Emirates.

“There is the constant fear that every time the US touches the Middle East, it makes things worse and instead of solving regional problems, it invariably creates bigger ones,” he said.

Abdulla said “Iran has a proven record of taking advantage of America’s mistakes. It could be once again the net beneficiary of this campaign” against the jihadists.

In leadership circles in the UAE, fears remain of Sunnis being marginalised. “We are very concerned that Iran might benefit,” said an Emirati official on condition of anonymity.

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Smoke rises over Kobane, 11 October (photo: Derek Henry Flood) Smoke rises over Kobane on Saturday as seen from the Turkish border

AFP

Islamic State militants fought deeper into Kobane on Friday, while a UN envoy warned that thousands of people will most likely be massacred if the Syrian Kurdish town falls to the extremist group.

The UN’s special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, warned that Kobane could suffer the same fate as the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, where 8,000 Muslims were murdered by Serbs in 1995, Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II, while UN peacekeepers failed to protect them.

“If this falls, the 700, plus perhaps the 12,000 people, apart from the fighters, will be most likely massacred,” de Mistura said. The United Nations believes 700 mainly elderly civilians are trapped in the town itself and 12,000 have left the centre but not made it across the border into Turkey.

“When there is an imminent threat to civilians, we cannot, we should not, be silent,” de Mistura said.

The plight Kobane, a Kurdish enclave, has unleashed the worst street violence in years in Turkey, which has 15 million Kurds of its own. Turkish Kurds have risen up since Tuesday against President Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which they accuse of allowing their kin to be slaughtered.

At least 33 people have been killed in three days of riots across the mainly Kurdish southeast, including two police officers shot dead in an apparent attempt to assassinate a police chief. The police chief was wounded.

Intense fighting between the Islamic State (IS) group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and outgunned Kurdish forces in the streets of Kobane could be heard from across the border in Turkey. Warplanes roared overhead and the western edge of town was hit by an airstrike, apparently by US-led coalition jets.

But even as the United States has increased its bombing of Islamic State targets in the area, it has acknowledged that its air support is unlikely to be enough to save the city from falling.

‘Tragic reality’

“Our focus in Syria is in degrading the capacity of [the Islamic State group] at its core to project power, to command itself, to sustain itself, to resource itself,” US Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said. “The tragic reality is that in the course of doing that there are going to be places like Kobane where we may or may not be able to be effective.”

Blinken said the Islamic State group controlled about 40 percent of Kobane. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, gave a similar estimate and said fighters had seized a central administrative area, known as the “security quarter”.

Ocalan Iso, deputy head of the Kurdish forces defending the town, told Reuters that Islamic State fighters were still shelling the centre, which proved it had not yet fallen.

“There are fierce clashes and they are bombing the centre of Kobane from afar,” he said, estimating the militants controlled 20 percent of the town. He called for more US-led airstrikes.

In Washington, the US State Department said Turkey has agreed to support the training and equipping of moderate opposition groups in Syria and that a US military planning team would visit Ankara next week to further discuss the matter. The United States has been pressing Turkey to join the fight against the Islamic State group.

The Middle East has been transformed in recent months by the Sunni militant Islamic State group, which has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq, crucifying and beheading prisoners and ordering non-Muslims and Shiites to convert or die.

The United States has been building a military coalition to fight the group, an effort that requires intervening in both Iraq and Syria, countries with complex multi-sided conflicts in which nearly every state in the region has allies and enemies.

International attention has focused on Turkey, a NATO member with the biggest army in the region, which has absorbed 1.2 million Syrian refugees, including 200,000 from Kobane in the last few weeks. Erdogan has so far refused to join the military coalition against the Islamic State group or use force to protect Kobane.

“We would like to appeal to the Turkish authorities … to allow the flow of volunteers, at least, and their own equipment in order to be able to enter the city and contribute to a self-defence action,” the UN envoy de Mistura said in Geneva.

‘Fight to the last breath’

The Kurdish uprising in Turkey provoked a furious response from the Turkish government, which accuses Kurdish political leaders of using the situation in Kobane to destroy public order in Turkey and wreck its own delicate peace process.

Turkish Kurds fought a decades-long insurgency in which 40,000 people were killed. A truce last year has been one of the main achievements of Erdogan’s decade in power, but Abdullah Ocalan, jailed co-founder of the Kurdish militant PKK, has said the peace process is doomed if Turkey permits Kobane to fall.

In a televised speech on Friday, Erdogan accused Kurdish leaders of “making calls for violence in a rotten way”.

“I have put my hand, my body and my life into this peace process,” he said. “And I will continue to fight until my last breath to restore the brotherhood of 77 million at any cost.”

The three days of riots in southern Turkey were the worst street violence in many years. The attempted assassination of a police chief in eastern Bingol province was the first incident of its kind since 2001. The armed wing of the PKK denied involvement in the attack.

The southeastern border province of Gaziantep saw some of the worst violence overnight, with four people killed and 20 wounded as armed clashes broke out between protesters calling for solidarity with Kobane and groups opposing them.

Footage showed crowds with guns, swords and sticks roaming streets of Gaziantep. Two local branches of the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey’s main Kurdish party, there were torched, Dogan News Agency reported.

Many of Turkey’s Kurds say the refusal to defend Kobane is proof the government sees them as a bigger enemy than the Islamic State gruop. At the frontier, dozens of Kurdish men watched Kobane’s fighting from a hill where farmers once tended pistachio trees.

“I believed in the peace process, because I didn’t want any more children to die. But the Kurds were fooled. The peace process was insincere. The government either wants to wipe out Kurds or to enslave them,” said Ahmet Encu, 46, who came 500 km (300 miles) to watch Kobane, where four relatives are fighting.

Turkey says it would join an international coalition to fight against the Islamic State group only if the alliance also confronts Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Erdogan wants a no-fly zone to prevent Assad’s planes from flying over the area near its border and a protected buffer zone there for refugees.

The United States has said it is studying the idea but has made clear it is not an option for now.

The Pentagon said the top US military officer, General Martin Dempsey, will convene a meeting of more than 20 foreign defence chiefs next week outside Washington to discuss the multinational campaign against the Islamic State group.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Turkish forces are ranged on the border but have not crossed, 10 Oct
Turkish forces are ranged on the border but have not crossed
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Refugees in Turkey, 11 Oct
Tens of thousands of refugees have fled over the border into Turkey
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There have been protests across Europe in support of Kobane's Kurds, including here in Dusseldorf, 11 Oct
There have been protests across Europe in support of Kobane’s Kurds

Obama Meets With Saudi King, Considers New Assistance to Syrian Rebels

March 28, 2014

President Barack Obama walks past an honor guard during the arrival ceremony at King Khalid International airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Friday, March 28, 2014. President Barack Obama is in Saudi Arabia to reassure the key Gulf ally that his commitment to the Arab world isn’t wavering. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

By JULIE PACE and JIM KUHNHENN
Associated Press

President Barack Obama is considering allowing shipments of new air defense systems to the Syrian opposition, a U.S. official said Friday, as Obama sought to reassure Saudi Arabia’s king that the U.S. is not taking too soft a stance in Syria and other Mideast conflicts.

A key U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia would be likely to cheer a decision by Obama to allow the portable missile launchers into Syria. Saudi officials were dismayed when Obama scrapped plans last year to launch a strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and they have been pressing the White House on the issue. The Saudis could play a direct role in sending the systems, known as “manpads,” to the rebels fighting Assad’s forces.

Manpads are compact missile launchers with the range and explosive power to attack low-flying planes and helicopters. U.S. officials have estimated the Syrian government has thousands.

Word of Obama’s potential shift came as Obama was paying a visit to Saudi King Abdullah’s desert oasis at the conclusion of a weeklong, four-country trip. The aging monarch has been nervously watching Washington’s negotiations with Iran and other U.S. policy developments in the Middle East.

Obama’s Marine One helicopter kicked up clouds of sand in his arrival at the king’s desert camp outside the capital of Riyadh for a meeting with Abdullah. The president walked through a row of military guards to an ornate room featuring a massive crystal chandelier and took a seat next to the 89-year-old king, who was breathing with the help of an oxygen tank.

Secretary of State John Kerry sat at the president’s side for the visit — Obama’s third official meeting with the king in six years. They met for nearly two hours before Obama and his aides left the compound after dusk.

Obama and the king spent the bulk of their session discussing Iran and Syria, where U.S. and Saudi interests remain aligned despite differences about some tactics, senior administration officials said after the meeting. In a nod to a potential change in the stance on manpads, officials said that in the course of providing assistance to the Syrian opposition, the U.S. has been able to develop deeper relationships that have fostered confidence in the moderate elements.

Despite longstanding U.S. complaints about human rights and treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, those issues didn’t come up in the meeting, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss the meeting by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Despite its decades-long alliance with the United States, Saudi’s royal family has become increasingly anxious in recent years over Obama’s nuclear talks with Iran and his tepid involvement in the Syrian civil war. During Obama’s evening meetings with the king, the president’s task was to reassure Saudi Arabia that the U.S. is not abandoning Arab interests despite troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, greater energy independence back home and nuclear talks with predominantly Persian Iran.

Allowing manpads to be delivered to Syrian rebels would mark a shift in strategy for the U.S., which until this point has limited its lethal assistance to small weapons and ammunition, as well as humanitarian aid. The U.S. has been grappling for ways to boost the rebels, who have lost ground in recent months, allowing Assad to regain a tighter grip on the war-weary nation.

As recently as February, the administration insisted Obama remained opposed to any shipments of manpads to the Syrian opposition. The U.S. has been concerned that the weaponry could fall into the wrong hands and possibly be used to shoot down a commercial airliner.

Among the reasons for Obama’s shift in thinking is the greater understanding the U.S. now has about the composition of the Syrian rebels, said the U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the internal deliberations by name and commented only on condition of anonymity. Still, the official added, Obama continues to have concerns about escalating the firepower on the ground in Syria, a country that has been torn apart by more than three years of civil war.

The president was not expected to announce a final decision on the matter during his overnight trip to the Gulf kingdom. U.S. and Saudi intelligence officials have been discussing the possibility of injecting manpads into the crisis for some time, including during a meeting in Washington earlier this year.

As for Saudi Arabia, White House officials and Mideast experts say the royal family’s main concern is Iran. The Saudis fear Iran’s nuclear program, object to Iran’s backing of the Assad government in Syria and see the government of Tehran as having designs on oilfields in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One on the flight to Saudi Arabia that the issues at the heart of Obama’s meetings with Abdullah would include Gulf security, Middle East peace, Iran and Egypt.

Rhodes said Obama was updating the king on the nuclear talks with Iran. He said Obama would also make the point that those negotiations do not mean U.S. concerns about other Iranian activities have lessened, including Iran’s support for Assad and Hezbollah, as well as its destabilizing activity in Yemen and the Gulf.

“Those concerns remain constant and we’re not in any way negotiating those issues in the nuclear talks,” he said.

Rhodes said human rights, including women’s rights, would be on the agenda for Obama’s meetings. But he said the U.S. has a broad range of security interests with Saudi Arabia that would be most prominent.

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Kuhnhenn reported from Rome. Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed from Washington.

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Follow Jim Kuhnhenn at http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn and Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Focus on Middle East: Obama and King Abdullah talked for two hours about the Syrian civil war and Iran's nuclear program

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Iran Nuclear Deal: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates Fear Iran, Israel Could Further Destabilize Gulf, Middle East

November 24, 2013

Saudi Arabia fears rapprochement between Washington and Tehran after 30 years of estrangement will be at its expense

By Ian Black
The Guardian

Saudi King Abdullah with Barack Obama

King Abdullah with Barack Obama in 2009: the Saudi leader has deep concerns about the direction of evolving US policy. Photograph: Mido Ahmed/AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia maintained a discreet silence on Sunday about the Iranian nuclear deal in Geneva but is thought likely to issue a guarded welcome despite its strong and clearly signalled reservations about what it fears is the rehabilitation of its longstanding regional rival.

Analysts in Riyadh said it would be diplomatically impossible for the Saudi government to publicly condemn an agreement designed to contain Iranian nuclear ambitions however deep its concerns about the direction of evolving US policy.

The Saudis have been unusually vocal in recent weeks in warning about a rapprochement between the US and Iran after more than 30 years of estrangement. King Abdullah is also openly unhappy with Barack Obama’s policy on Syria – in some ways a proxy war between the Saudis and Iran – and is stepping up efforts to aid rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

In Damascus, the Syrian government, significantly, was quick on Sunday to welcome what it called “an historic accord”. Iran is Assad’s most important regional ally.

Mohammad bin Nawwaf, the Saudi ambassador to Britain, warned at the weekend that the kingdom would not “sit idly by” if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon. But as the Geneva deal aims to prevent that, Riyadh  has little choice but to insist on full implementation and careful monitoring.

Diplomats predict that the Saudis and their Gulf neighbours, especially the United Arab Emirates, may seek to obtain security guarantees from the US in the event of a final agreement with Iran. King Abdullah is assumed to have discussed the issue in a previously unannounced summit meeting with the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait in Riyadh on Saturday as the Geneva talks were reaching their climax.

“Anything that lessens tensions in the region is welcome,” said the Saudi commentator Khaled Almaeena. “We were all on tenterhooks. Advocates of attacking Iran should know that we were facing terrible problems in the Gulf. Property values in the UAE would have gone down because people expected Iranian retaliation in case of war. We are concerned about the environment and our security.

“Both Iran and the P5+1 [the powers that concluded the accord with Tehran] will have to work hard. But we hope Israel will not throw a monkey wrench into this deal.”

Saudi Arabia has long-signalled that it would also seek to acquire nuclear weapons – most likely from Pakistan – if Iran had them. Its own security interests lie in seeing this agreement succeed. But it fears that a new relationship between Washington and Tehran will be at its expense. Iran’s backing for Assad, its intimate relationship with Hezbollah in Lebanon and support and inspiration for Shias in Iraq, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s eastern province are all issues of profound concern.

The Saudis and the other Gulf states spent billions of dollars backing Saddam Hussein in his 1980-88 year war against Iran – itself a response to the fears created by the 1979 Islamic revolution. Adjusting to a genuine thaw in relations between the west and Tehran is not going to be easy.