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May 31, 2019

Iran-focused summits: Arab, Muslim leaders gather in Makkah


May 31, 2019

MAKKAH, Saudi Arabia: Arab and Muslim leaders began gathering in the holy city of Makkah on Thursday for three summits, as Saudi Arabia seeks to rally support against arch-rival Iran over attacks on oil installations.

On the eve of the talks, Riyadh blasted what it called Iranian "interference" in the region and demanded "firmness" over attacks on Gulf oil tankers and pipelines.

The call came just hours after US National Security Adviser John Bolton said Iran was almost certainly behind the sabotage of four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the UAE coast. Iran-aligned Yemeni rebels meanwhile have stepped up drone attacks on the kingdom -- one of which resulted in the temporary shutdown of a major oil pipeline.

Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally, geared up to host leaders from across the Arab and Muslim world for emergency Gulf and Arab summits and a meeting of the heads of state of Islamic nations.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, and Sudan’s new military council chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan were among the leaders who arrived in the kingdom on Thursday, Saudi state media reported.

Riyadh has called the talks to discuss the standoff with Iran and ways to isolate Tehran amid fears of a military confrontation. "Tehran’s support for Huthi rebels in Yemen is proof of Iranian interference in other nations’ affairs and this is something that... Islamic countries should reject," Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf told a gathering of foreign ministers of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation in western Jeddah city overnight.

Contrary to expectations, an Iranian delegation headed by Reza Najafi, director general for international peace and security affairs at Iran’s foreign ministry, represented the Islamic republic at the meeting.

Assaf said attacks on oil installations must be addressed with "firmness and determination". Tensions in the region spiked after the four ships were damaged in a sabotage attack off the coast of the emirate of Fujairah on May 12.

The vessels were attacked using "naval mines almost certainly from Iran", Bolton told a news conference in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. "There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind in Washington who’s responsible for this," he said in a clear reference to Iran.

Iran strongly rejected the accusation. "Making such laughable claims... is not strange" coming from the US, foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.

US experts are part of a five-nation team that is investigating the ship attacks. The new war of words between Tehran and Washington follows a US military buildup that includes the deployment of an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and 1,500 more troops to the region. Bolton however said the additional US forces were sent to the Middle East as a "deterrent" and that Washington’s response would be prudent.

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