Middle East New US policy: Oppose Tehran, ally with Riyadh

New US policy: Oppose Tehran, ally with Riyadh
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Photo: Foreign Policy)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – Senior US officials on Wednesday signaled a major shift in US policy toward Iran and Saudi Arabia.

In Washington, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave two major speeches. In his first talk, at an economic summit between US and Saudi businessmen, Tillerson hailed the “very strong partnership that exists between our two countries.”

Three hours later, Tillerson addressed the Washington press corps in the State Department’s ornate Treaty Room. He strongly criticized Tehran for its export of “terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country.”

At roughly the same time, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in Saudi Arabia, spoke similarly. He explained to reporters Riyadh had been an important US ally for 70 years, and it remains “a pillar of our security framework.”

Mattis also denounced Tehran, saying, “Everywhere you look, if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran.”

Together, the statements of Tillerson and Mattis suggest the Trump administration is returning to what has been the traditional US orientation in that region since the 1979 Iranian revolution: an alliance with Riyadh against Tehran.

In adopting this position, the Trump administration is making a sharp break with the Obama presidency, which had sought to reach some accommodation with Tehran.

Moreover, the Trump administration will pursue this policy with substantial vigor, it seems. Not since Ronald Reagan was president three decades ago have US officials spoken so harshly and critically about Iran.

“The Trump administration is currently conducting across the entire government a review of our Iran policy,” Tillerson explained, before he listed the many threats posed by Iran, of which its nuclear program is only one.

Those threats include support for “Iraqi militant groups,” which Tehran provides “primarily through the Qods Force,” Tillerson said, and “which has been undermining security in Iraq for years.”

Additionally, “Iran continues to support the brutal Assad regime in Syria.” In Yemen, Tehran supports “the Houthis’ attempted overthrow of the government,” America’s top diplomat stated. And Tehran maintains a “longstanding hostility” towards Israel.

Tillerson also described hostile Iranian actions taken directly against the US, including cyber-attacks, the harassment of US naval vessels in the Persian Gulf, and the detention of US citizens.

And he charged Iran has “one of the world’s worst human rights records,” regularly jailing and even executing political opponents.

As Tillerson spoke, Mattis was in Riyadh, on the second day of a visit to the desert kingdom.

Before becoming Secretary of Defense, Mattis’ last posting had been commander of CENTCOM before his forced retirement in 2013, reportedly because his hawkish views on Iran did not sit well with the Obama administration.

In Riyadh, Mattis met the Saudi king, along with his son Mohammed bin Salman, who holds the positions of Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister.

Mattis described their talks as frank, candid, and “highly productive.” President Trump and King Salman spoke by phone during his visit, and they approved the understandings Mattis had reached in Riyadh.

“Now that we have the blessing of our leadership,” Mattis told reporters in a joint press conference with Prince Mohammed, “it’s important that we actually do something with it.”

Mattis did not provide any details but spoke in general terms. The US planned to “reinforce Saudi Arabia’s resistance to Iran’s mischief and make you more effective with your military, as we work together as partners.”

“It is in our interest to see a strong Saudi Arabia military security service and secret services,” he said.

Mattis also suggested Trump might visit Riyadh.

Mattis’ strong language speaks to a US intent to restore relations with Saudi Arabia to a closeness that has not existed since the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, that is what the Saudis want as well.

The Saudi Defense Minister affirmed the US and Saudi Arabia would work together to counter “all” regional challenges, whether “fighting terrorist organizations” or countering “the malign activities of Iran.”

Last month, Mohammed visited Washington. A late winter snow storm caused German Chancellor Angela Merkel to postpone her scheduled visit, and Mohammed filled in as Trump’s lunch guest. That meeting evidently went well and prepared the way for the understandings Mattis reached in Riyadh.

Thus, a new US policy toward Tehran and Riyadh is emerging, one America’s traditional allies will welcome.

Almost certainly, Iran will respond in some fashion, even, perhaps, with the support of its Russian ally.

It is impossible to predict what that reaction will be or how things will ultimately turn out. However, the Trump administration does seem quite determined to confront Iran’s belligerence and expansionism and to provide more support to traditional US allies in the region.

 

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany