JEDDAH/TEHRAN - Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz called Wednesday for stronger military cooperation between the United States and Gulf monarchies whose security he said is threatened.
The prince made the remarks during a meeting in the Saudi city of Jeddah between visiting US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council. “We meet today amid persistent threats to the region’s security and stability,” which “necessitate coordination in politics and defence strategies of our countries,” said Salman. “The security of our countries and our people are in danger,” added the prince, who also holds the kingdom’s defence portfolio.
Salman said among the issues of concern were “political crises” in some Arab states, as well as “attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and meddling of certain states” in the internal affairs of others, in an apparent reference to Iran.
He voiced hope that “cooperation continues” with the United States, stressing “historic and strategic relations” between Washington and GCC countries have “contributed to cementing security and stability in the region.”
US officials have struggled to reassure Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, over an interim nuclear deal with Iran that the Saudis worry will embolden Tehran.
The energy-rich GCC has also been dissatisfied with Washington’s cautious approach to arming rebel forces in Syria.
The US-GCC meeting was expected to offer Hagel a chance “to underscore US security commitments in the Middle East and to reinforce the United States’ unstinting policy of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and further destabilising the region,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said last week.
The gathering would also focus on coordinating “air and missile defence, maritime security and cyber defence,” he said.
After his stop in Saudi Arabia, Hagel is to head to Jordan for talks on the raging civil war in its neighbour Syria.
Meanwhile, Iran on Wednesday welcomed a plan for its foreign minister to visit Saudi Arabia, stressing the need to boost relations after years of strained ties.
The two countries have been at odds over Syria’s civil war and the fallout from unrest in Bahrain.
Riyadh’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday said he had invited his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to visit the kingdom. Iran’s deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian told the official IRNA news agency that Tehran had yet to receive Riyadh’s formal invite, but a meeting was expected.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah appointed his son as governor of Riyadh Province on Wednesday in a move that strengthens his branch of the ruling dynasty as it approaches a difficult decision over how to transfer power to the next generation.
Prince Turki bin Abdullah’s elevation to one of the most important positions held by ruling family members in the absolute monarchy comes months after another son of the king, Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah, was made governor of Mecca Province.
The Saudi line of succession does not pass directly from father to son, as in European monarchies, but has moved along a line of brothers born to the country’s founder King Abdulaziz who died in 1954.
As that line nears its end, the al-Saud dynasty is grappling with how to move the succession down to the next generation of the family.
King Abdullah, who is over 90, has made a series of changes and appointments over the past two years that have consolidated the position of his allies in the family.
The most recent was the appointment of Prince Muqrin, the youngest of King Abdulaziz’s sons to survive into adulthood, as deputy crown prince, a newly created position that makes him next in line to rule after King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman.
That move was seen as delaying the moment when the al-Saud will have to decide on a prince from the younger generation to take charge, and prompted speculation about a wider deal between different branches of the family.