Apr 28, 2017
Royals from Gulf Arab countries met on Thursday in Saudi Arabia to discuss regional security and try and formulate a unified voice on rival Iran.
The meeting in Riyadh included the defense, interior and foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, a tightly allied bloc led by Saudi Arabia that also includes the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain.
A joint statement after the meeting said the ministers discussed ways to enhance cooperation to combat terrorism, including efforts to build up a military alliance of Muslim-majority countries. The alliance of mostly Sunni countries was announced by Saudi Arabia in late 2015 and doesn’t include Shiite-ruled Iran, or Syria and Iraq.
In an apparent reference to Iran, the statement stressed the bloc countries’ determination to prevent “external interference” in their internal affairs and “efforts to undermine national security and provoke sectarian strife.”
Despite presenting a united front in the meeting, the bloc’s member-states differ when it comes to Iran.
Bahrain’s Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa accused Iran in his opening remarks of being behind attacks that have killed security forces in the island nation.
“We continue to face grave threats emanating from the territories of Iran as well as Iraq, which back terrorist groups and criminal organizations,” he said.
Bahrain’s Sunni-led monarchy has weathered years of protests by the country’s majority Shiites and blames Iran for fueling the unrest, which has at times turned violent. The nation hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Saudi Arabia last year broke off diplomatic relations with Iran and the kingdom and Tehran back opposing sides of the war in Syria. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia is at war with Shiite rebels aligned with Iran.
Other GCC countries, however, have recently taken steps to improve ties with Iran.
Qatar’s ruler met with Iran’s foreign minister in the capital, Doha, in March. Qatar and Iran share control of a giant underwater natural gas field.
Also this year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met with the leaders of Oman and Kuwait in visits aimed at repairing ties.