US and Saudi Arabia discuss Iran 'meddling'

Gulf countries accuse Iran of interference in the affairs of Bahrain and Kuwait in a campaign to destabilise the region.

    Gates said Iran was looking to "exploit" the unrest in Bahrain, where protest have been met with violence [Reuters]

    US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates has held talks in Riyadh with Saudi King Abdullah, with both sides concerned by Iranian intentions in the region.

    Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states have traded accusations with Iran of meddling and interference, especially over the tiny Sunni-ruled, Shia-majority kingdom of Bahrain that lies to Saudi Arabia's east and is a key US ally and home to the US Fifth Fleet.

    "We talked about developments all over the region, obviously talked about Iran," Gates said following the meeting on Wednesday.

    "We talked about how to prevent disruptive actions and extremist organisations trying to take advantages of the turbulences in the region," he added.

    'Iran's interference'

    "We already have evidence that the Iranians are trying to exploit the situation in Bahrain and we also have evidence that they're talking about what they can do to create problems elsewhere," Gates said.

    Saudi Arabia led a joint Gulf force that deployed there last month, enabling Bahraini authorities to quell protests calling for democratic reforms.

    On Sunday, foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Saudi Arabia is a leading member, accused Iran of interference in the affairs of Bahrain and Kuwait in a campaign to destabilise the region.

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded by saying that the United States and its allies pressured the Gulf Arab states to make the accusations against Iran, and demanded Saudi forces leave Bahrain.

    Iraq visit

    On his first visit to Iraq this year, Gates arrived late on Wednesday for two days of talks with senior government officials on the looming final withdrawal of American troops from a country still suffering from frequent violence eight years after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime.

    Gates' meetings on Thursday were to include a session with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has publicly insisted Iraq can handle its security without US troops beyond 2011.

    The bulk of the remaining 47,000 US troops are to begin going home in late summer or early fall, officials have said.

    Gates has said in congressional testimony that it might be preferable to keep US troops in the role of training Iraqi forces and providing security for an enlarging US Embassy presence, but he also has said the US will pull out completely on schedule at year's end unless the Iraqis request an extension.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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