Saudi Arabia‘s king has accused the kingdom’s key rival, Iran, of developing nuclear and ballistic missiles which threaten regional and global stability, telling regional leaders that action is needed to stop Iranian “escalations” following a series of attacks on oil assets in the Gulf.
The comments by King Salman Abdul Aziz came as Saudi Arabia on Thursday hosted in Mecca emergency meetings of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League to counter what it said was Iran’s growing influence.
A Gulf-Arab statement and a separate communique issued after the wider summit both supported the right of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to defend their interests after the attacks on oil pumping stations in the kingdom and tankers off the UAE.
But in a sign of regional tensions, Iraq, which has good ties with neighbouring Iran and the United States, said it objected to the Arab communique, which stated that any cooperation with Tehran should be based on “non-interference in other countries”.
Addressing Arab and Muslim leaders earlier, King Salman pressed the international community to “use all means to stop Iran from interfering in other countries’ affairs”.
He said Tehran’s actions threatened international maritime trade and global oil supplies in a “glaring violation of UN treaties”.
“This is naked aggression against our stability and international security,” the Saudi ruler told the gathered officials.
Iran’s “recent criminal acts … require that all of us work seriously to preserve the security… of GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries,” the king added.
In his opening remarks, Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said the alleged sabotage of oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and drone attacks on a Saudi oil pipeline by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in recent weeks threaten the global economy and endanger regional and international security.
“We should confront it with all means of force and firmness,” he said.
An Iranian official was at the meeting where Assaf spoke.Tehran has denied any involvement in the attacks.
An Iranian official dismissed Bolton’s remarks as “a ludicrous claim”.
King Salman invited Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose country is home to the largest US military base in the region, to the Mecca summit.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani attended the meeting instead, the highest Qatari official to visit the kingdom since Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on the gas-rich nation in June 2017.
Video images of Thursday’s gathering showed Sheikh Abdullah shaking King Salman’s hand.
Thomas Pickering, a former US ambassador the UN, told Al Jazeera the Qatari prime minister’s presence at the summit was an important step.
“The invitation has opened the door more than just a little bit. His [Sheikh Abdullah’s] presence there and the handshake is a sign that Saudi Arabia wants unity in the Gulf Cooperation Council and that unity is spreading,” said Pickering.
Analysts said the emergency summit will be watched closely for whether or not the Saudis will endorse Qatar as a mediator in the dispute with Iran the same way the US has.
Earlier this month, Al Jazeera reported that Qatar’s foreign minister had held talks with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran, aiming to defuse the escalating tensions in the Gulf.
“Washington seems to have bet on Doha to de-escalate by opening back channels with Tehran. The question is whether Saudi and especially UAE can agree on Doha as a mediator,” Andreas Krieg from King’s College London told Al Jazeera.
“The fact that the Saudis contacted the emir of Qatar directly suggests that the tension with Iran is taken very seriously in Riyadh. So, the kingdom is ready to build a broader-than-usual consensus on how to deal with Iran,” Krieg said.
Gulf states have a joint defence force under the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but the 39-year-old alliance has been fractured by the Qatar blockade.
Tensions with Iran
Animosity has risen between the US and Iran after Washington pulled out of a multinational nuclear deal with Tehran, reimposed sanctions and boosted its military presence in the Gulf.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on a trip to Iraq this month that Tehran wanted balanced ties with their Gulf neighbours and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.
One of the UAE’s main newspapers said in an editorial, which is usually state-approved, the offer was “bizarre”.
“No Mr Zarif. We are not buying your ‘nice neighbour’ routine,” said the front-page editorial in Gulf News daily.