By Arshad Mohammed
US Secretary of State John Kerry met Saudi Arabia’s king and Gulf Arab foreign ministers in Riyadh on Thursday to reassure them that a possible nuclear deal with old adversary Iran would not damage their interests.
Kerry arrived in Riyadh late on Wednesday from Montreux, Switzerland, where he said he had made progress in talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
China, one of the six nations involved in the Iran negotiations, which aim to establish a framework accord by late March, said on Thursday an agreement might be at hand.
“We do think that it’s a last stage and hopefully we could reach an agreement,” said Wang Qun, director general of the arms control department of China’s Foreign Ministry.
Gulf countries, like Israel and many Western states, fear that Iran is using its atomic programme to develop nuclear weapons capability, something Tehran denies.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia regards Shi’ite Iran as its main regional rival and the two countries back opposing sides in wars and political struggles in Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and Yemen, often along sectarian lines.
As such, Saudi Arabia and its allies worry that the mooted atomic accord will not stop Iran from gaining the bomb. They are also concerned that it would lift international pressure on Tehran and give it more room to intervene in regional issues.
The Baghdad government, which is close to Iran, said on Thursday it believed the nuclear negotiations would prove fruitful.
“We believe these (talks) will lead to a peaceful solution and will resolve controversial points,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told a UN-sponsored conference in Geneva.
Kerry was driven to Diriyah on the outskirts of Riyadh to meet King Salman, who became monarch in January. He is also scheduled to meet Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is the Interior Minister and heads Riyadh’s security policy.
The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
Kerry also held a separate meeting at the start of the day with Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusef bin Alawi bin Abdullah. Muscat helped facilitate months of secret talks between Iran and the United States in 2013 that led to the push for a deal.