Kerry was meeting on Monday with the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the six-member bloc of Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab nations that fear Shiite Iran’s increasing assertiveness in the region and the implications of the agreement. In addition to Iran, the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen were expected to be high on the agenda.
His talks with top diplomats from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates follow a May meeting that President Barack Obama hosted for Arab leaders at Camp David. At that meeting, Obama promised them enhanced security cooperation and expedited defense sales to guard against a potential Iranian threat.
Kerry has acknowledged concerns about Iran’s behavior in the Middle East but says it would be easier to deal with if Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. He said the agreement struck by world powers with Iran in Vienna last month is the best way to do that.
“Iran is engaged in destabilizing activities in the region — and that is why it is so important to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains wholly peaceful,” he said on Sunday in Egypt before flying to Qatar. “There can be absolutely no question that the Vienna plan, if implemented, will make Egypt and all the countries of this region safer than they otherwise would be.”
Kerry’s visit to Qatar follows one last week by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who also stopped in Kuwait and Iraq to present Tehran’s side of the nuclear deal.
In Doha on Monday, Kerry will also meet separately with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to discuss Syria. The three-way meeting is unusual, particularly as Russia has been a prime backer of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Saudi Arabia and the United States have been calling for his removal.