DUBAI (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will seek to reassure Gulf Arab officials at a meeting in Qatar soon that Washington will work with them to “push back” against Iranian influence in the region, he told the pan-Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat.
Most U.S. allies in the energy-rich Gulf publicly welcomed a deal between world powers and Tehran over its disputed nuclear program, but they accuse Tehran of interfering in Arab conflicts and pushing hard for heightened regional influence.
“I will be traveling to Doha in the next couple of weeks to meet with the whole (Gulf Cooperation Council),” Kerry told the paper in an interview published on Wednesday. He was referring to a group of countries comprising Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
“I think we can persuade them both that by being more effective in our counter-push as well as through the restraints we have, they will be significantly strengthened going forward.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told supporters on Saturday that U.S. policies in the region were “180 degrees” opposed to Iran’s and his country would continue to back its allies in Arab states.
Kerry told Al Arabiya television he found those comments disturbing and troubling.
Few of America’s friends in the region back the deal.
Israel is implacably opposed, and Arab allies of the United States such as Saudi Arabia, ruled by Sunni Muslims, are suspicious of an arrangement that would benefit their Shi’ite, non-Arab rival Iran, which they accuse of fomenting sectarian conflict in wars in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
Kerry’s diplomatic outreach follows a summit with Gulf Arab leaders called by President Barack Obama at Camp David in May, which was snubbed by the leaders of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Despite their misgivings, Kerry said, the United States aimed to convince its allies the deal was in their interests.
“The whole reason for Camp David was to bring people together around in an organizational effort to push back against Iran,” Kerry said.
“We have negotiated a nuclear deal for the simple reason that we believe if you are going to push back against Iran, it’s better to push back against an Iran without a nuclear weapon than with one,” he said.
Reporting By Noah Browning; Editing by Paul Tait