US special envoy calls for Mideast unity to counter Iran threat

US special envoy calls for Mideast unity to counter Iran threat
Elliott Abrams is the US special representative for Iran and Venezuela. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 November 2020

US special envoy calls for Mideast unity to counter Iran threat

US special envoy calls for Mideast unity to counter Iran threat
  • Elliott Abrams warns Tehran regime will face ‘maximum pressure until there is a change in Iranian conduct’

RIYADH: Hard on the heels of his visit to Saudi Arabia, Elliott Abrams, US special representative for Iran and Venezuela, has called for greater cooperation among Middle East countries to counter the threat from Iran.

The envoy said that a unified regional response is the “single ingredient that needs to be added” to deter Tehran’s “malicious impact on the region.”

“Frankly, this is one of the reasons that we would like to see the unity of all the anti-Houthi forces in Yemen because their divisions are helpful to Iran,” he said.

“I had an opportunity to speak with President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi about this yesterday. So, that kind of unity and cooperation of all the anti-Houthi forces in Yemen, we think is very important.” 

Abrams said that cooperation among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is essential. “We have been unhappy with the divisions within the GCC for some time, and we hope that there can be diplomatic efforts that overcome that division.”

He also believes that the new ties between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan are important because these countries are facing threats from Iran. “If they work together, their ability to resist that threat is greater.”

Abrams wants to see greater cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia as well as the Kingdom and its neighbors. 

“I would add Iraq to this picture, too, because the government of Iraq is under heavy pressure. The people of Iraq want to govern themselves. They want to govern their own country. They do not want the policies of their government to be dictated by a bunch of armed militias that are directly from Tehran. This is a difficult struggle. We all need to remain committed to it and we all need to work together.”

Abrams said that his meeting with Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Kingdom’s deputy defense minister, covered a full range of issues that are of great interest to both countries. 

“We started on the issue of Iran and its impact on the region, which is unfortunately malicious and widespread. Not only here in the Gulf, but extending to the shores of the Mediterranean.”

Discussions regarding Iran’s regional activities, its missile program and its nuclear file were held. “We talked about new developments in the region, including the agreement between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. We talked about the important relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and the need to work together.”

Abrams said that the people of Iraq have kept control of their country, despite Iran’s efforts which posed a threat.

He said the US and several countries in the region have strong alliances and the relationship has grown stronger in recent years.

“That is partly a tribute to Arab leadership and partly to President Donald Trump and partly to the Iranians, because it becomes increasingly clear, both to us and to leaders in this region, leaders here in Saudi Arabia as well, what a danger Iran represents.

 “If you think of Iranian activities in Lebanon, Palestinian territory, in Iraq or Yemen, this is a very dangerous activity and it focuses the minds of all of us who want a peaceful and stable Middle East. So, I think our cooperation has grown in the last few years when it comes to diplomacy and to the military relationship we all have,” he said.

 “Unfortunately, so much of our attention has to be dedicated to resisting Iranian efforts and destabilization. Unless there is a change in Iranian conduct, we will continue to need to do this and we will continue to do it,” he added.

Regarding the campaign to put pressure on Iran, Abrams believes that the Tehran regime understands that it cannot endure more years of sanctions.

“We see this in some of the economic conditions in Iran, and oil exports are a very good measure. We also see it in some of the things that have happened to Hamas and Hezbollah, where we know that the amounts they have made available have decreased.

“The goal here is not pressure for the pressure. It’s pressure for the sake of changing Iran’s conduct,” he added. 

Abrams said that to secure the waterways and the Strait of Hormuz relies on an international maritime security construct. “We have lots of countries that are involved in making sure that these international waterways remain open.”

Another goal is to be open to commerce while stopping weapons smuggling. “So we work together with allies from all over the world who contribute. Allies in the region like Saudi Arabia, but allies as far away as Australia are also contributing. And this has to be maintained, unfortunately, as long as Iran is a threat to international waterways and as long as it is engaging in weapons smuggling.”

Abrams said that the interests of the US do not change easily over the years “People have different judgments about how to protect those interests. But countries don’t change overnight. Our alliances don’t change. Our geography doesn’t change. Your (Saudi Arabia’s) geography doesn’t change. So, people should not expect gigantic changes overnight,” he said.

“If there is a Biden administration, some policies will change and some won’t. Now, I am not a mind reader and I am not a spokesman for the Biden campaign. So, I really shouldn’t speculate about what the policies would be,” he said. 

“No matter who wins the election, there will be an American ambassador here. There will be an American military presence in this region. There will be tremendous counterterrorism cooperation because all of this is in the interests of the US and the interests of Saudi Arabia,” he added.