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Agencies
May 20, 2019

Saudi Arabia calls for urgent Arab talks over Iran tensions

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A
Agencies
May 20, 2019

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia has called for emergency regional talks to discuss mounting Gulf tensions, saying Sunday that it does not want war with Iran but is ready to defend itself.

It comes days after mysterious sabotage attacks on several tankers in highly sensitive Gulf waters and drone strikes on a Saudi crude pipeline by Yemen rebels who Riyadh claimed were acting on Iranian orders. The United States has also deployed an aircraft carrier and bombers to the Gulf over alleged threats from Iran.

King Salman invited Gulf leaders and Arab League member states to two emergency summits in Makkah on May 30 to discuss recent "aggressions and their consequences", the kingdom´s official SPA news agency reported late Saturday.

Saudi Arabia´s minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, said Sunday his country does not want to go to war with Iran but would defend itself.

Saudi Arabia "does not want a war, is not looking for it and will do everything to prevent it," he said. "But at the same time, if the other side chooses war, the kingdom will respond with strength and determination to defend itself and its interests."

The kingdom´s regional allies welcomed the Saudi invitation.

The UAE´s Foreign Ministry said the current "critical circumstances" require a unified Arab and Gulf stance.

The meetings will be a "significant opportunity for the countries of the region to achieve their aspirations for establishing peace and stability," it said.

According to Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank, Riyadh wants to show that the region is behind it. "The US maximum pressure campaign against Iran has little support among Western allies," she said. "Saudi Arabia is building, in its eyes, the strongest coalition of Arab and Muslim states that it has ever assembled to push back against its adversary, Iran."

Four ships including two Saudi oil tankers were damaged in mysterious sabotage attacks last Sunday off the UAE´s Fujairah, near the Strait of Hormuz -- a vital maritime route for oil exports which Iran has threatened to close in the event of a war.

That incident was followed by drone strikes Tuesday claimed by Yemen´s Iran-aligned rebels on a major Saudi oil pipeline built as an alternative export route if the Strait of Hormuz were to be closed.

Saudi Arabia accused Tehran of ordering the pipeline attacks, targeting "the security of oil supplies... and the global economy". "If Iran is deemed responsible, Gulf allies will presumably support a firm retort, but they may balk at being dragged into a major confrontation," the Washington Institute said on Tuesday.

Despite international scepticism, the US government has cited increasing threats from Iran, a long-time enemy of both Washington and its regional allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

SPA said Sunday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had spoken with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about enhancing security in the region.

The US has already strengthened its military presence in the region, deploying several strategic B-52 bombers. US President Donald Trump last week predicted that Iran would "soon" want to negotiate.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it wanted to avert war in the region but stood ready to respond with “all strength” following last week’s attacks on Saudi oil assets, telling Iran that the ball was now in its court.

Riyadh has accused Tehran of ordering Tuesday’s drone strikes on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom, claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group. Two days earlier, four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

In response, countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) began “enhanced security patrols” in the international waters of the Arabian Gulf area on Saturday, the US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said on Sunday.

Iran has denied involvement in either operation, which come as Washington and the Islamic Republic spar over sanctions and the US military presence in the region, raising concerns about a potential US-Iran conflict.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has dismissed the possibility of war erupting, saying Tehran did not want conflict and no country had the “illusion it can confront Iran”. This stance was echoed by the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Sunday. “We are not pursuing war but we are also not afraid of war,” Major General Hossein Salami was cited as saying by the semi-official news agency Tasnim.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want a war in the region nor does it seek that,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference. “It will do what it can to prevent this war and at the same time it reaffirms that in the event the other side chooses war, the kingdom will respond with all force and determination, and it will defend itself and its interests.”

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday invited Gulf and Arab leaders to convene emergency summits in Mecca on May 30 to discuss implications of the attacks. “The current critical circumstances entail a unified Arab and Gulf stance toward the besetting challenges and risks,” the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement.

The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said in its statement about increased maritime patrols that GCC countries were “specifically increasing communication and coordination with each other in support of regional naval cooperation and maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf,” with navies and coast guards working with the US Navy.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo said on Sunday his country’s economy and oil industry was under economic and financial siege by the US government. “This therefore generates disturbances in the flow of oil supply to the world market as well as serious economic damage and suffering to the Venezuelan people,” he said in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, ahead of a ministerial panel meeting of top OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia.

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