Leaked documents show details of failed Arab-U.S. move to form anti-Iran alliance

May 9, 2021 - 18:52

TEHRAN - A Lebanese newspaper has published top-secret documents outlining details of a failed plan by former U.S. president Donald Trump and certain Arab countries in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, to form a large regional coalition against Iran.

According to Beirut-based al-Akhbar newspaper, the documents show that Trump began to lure its allies in West Asia into forming an anti-Iran front months after his first foreign trip to Riyadh as the president of the United States.

Trump’s plan, under the names “the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA)” and the “Arab NATO”, was accompanied by his milking of the Arab countries while going on with implementing the so-called “maximum pressure” policy against Iran, the report said.

The report also revealed that Riyadh was very enthusiastic about and had faith in Trump’s strategy and put all its eggs in his basket while raising its hopes to unrealistic levels.

According to a confidential Saudi document dated July 4, 2019, the U.S. demanded that all parties must “accelerate arms deals” with the United States, the Lebanese paper reported, hinting at Trump’s famous phrase that “they need to pay” for Washington’s support.

It added that the document exempts the U.S. from taking “any military action” in the event of attacks against those countries, making the Saudis realize that such deals give “important benefits to the U.S.” without imposing any burdens on it, while giving “very limited benefits to other countries, including the Kingdom.”

Al-Akhbar argued that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain’s insistence on the necessity of confronting Iran and its “regional wings” as the main focus of the alliance shows that they were skeptical about the intentions of the U.S. for the creation of the so-called Arab NATO.

According to the leaked documents, minutes of a coordination meeting between the Persian Gulf states at the headquarters of the Saudi military attaché in Washington show that the Saudis were concerned about a lack of commitment on the American side and also about the fact that it did not offer any benefits to the member states.

“We want the coalition to be limited to the military-security aspect only, and to include sources of threats, in addition to the possibility of establishing strategic partnerships with other allied countries,” the head of the Saudi delegation said at the meeting.

Al-Akhbar argued that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain’s insistence on the necessity of confronting Iran and its “regional wings” as the main focus of the alliance shows that they were skeptical about the intentions of the U.S. for the creation of the so-called Arab NATO.

At that meeting, Bahrain wanted the U.S. to be harsher in confronting what it called “Iranian threats,” while worrying that Washington might not remain committed to the alliance.

“After the first proposal submitted by the White House clearly referred to confronting Iranian threats, the second proposal that came from the U.S. Defense and State Ministries was less severe,” the head of the Bahrain delegation regretted, adding, “We want to obtain guarantees that the United States will not abandon this alliance as it did by withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran.”

The Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – on May 2018 and imposed the harshest sanctions on Iran with the its “maximum pressure” campaign.

Citing the leaked documents, al-Akhbar said the main objective of the United States’ proposal was said to be “building institutions to create power against (what it called) the Iranian aggression, terrorism and extremism, and promoting economic growth and diversity.”

The report came more than a week after Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), said he is seeking to have “good relations” with Iran while pointing to some differences in the path toward rapprochement.

“Iran is a neighboring state, we are seeking to have good relations with Iran, we have interests in Iran,” Bin Salman said in an interview broadcast on Saudi state TV on April 27.

Tehran has reacted positively to the recent “change in Saudi Arabia’s tone” towards the Islamic Republic and welcomed bilateral efforts to secure regional peace and stability.

Qatar has voiced support for dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia, calling such a dialogue a constructive step toward regional stability. 

Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani has said his country welcomes any dialogue between Tehran and Riyadh. 

“We welcome any dialogue or efforts and a positive spirit related to relations between Iran and the [Persian] Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia, and we support such efforts and believe that dialogue is a constructive step toward the stability of the region,” the chief Qatari diplomat said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Iran and Qatar are in close contact. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad paid a visit to the Persian Gulf nation in late April. During his meeting with the Qatari foreign minister, the Iranian foreign minister highlighted the importance of Tehran-Doha relations as well as bilateral and regional cooperation, according to a statement issued by the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Zarif said Iran’s approach is to boost its relations with the regional countries. 

Earlier in January, Qatar called on the Persian Gulf’s Arab states to seize on the momentum of reconciliation drive in the region and patch up their differences with Iran. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, the Qatari foreign minister expressed hope that a summit between leaders of the six-member Persian Gulf Cooperation Council and Iran would happen.

“We are hopeful that this [summit] would happen and we still believe that this should happen. And I think this is also a desire that being shared among the other GCC countries. I just mentioned to you that there is a difference between the countries on the way how to approach such a dialogue. Also from the Iranian side. They have expressed their willingness several times to engage with the GCC countries,” the Qatari foreign minister said.

He said the time should come when the Persian Gulf’s Arab states will sit at the table with Iran and reach a common understanding. “We have to live with each other. We cannot change geography. Iran cannot move the GCC away from its neighborhood and the GCC cannot move Iran from the neighborhood,” bin Abdulrahman continued.

Iran welcomed the Qatari call for dialogue between Iran and the Persian Gulf’s Arab states, underlining that the solution to the region’s challenges lies in cooperation to form a strong region free from foreign interference.

“Iran welcomes my brother FM @MBA_AlThani's call for inclusive dialogue in our region. As we have consistently emphasized, the solution to our challenges lies in collaboration to jointly form a 'strong region': peaceful, stable, prosperous & free from global or regional hegemony,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet following the Qatari foreign minister’s call for dialogue.

Over the past few weeks, there have been plenty of press reports saying that Iran and Saudi Arabia have held a direct meeting in Baghdad for the first time in years. A Saudi official at the Saudi Foreign Ministry confirmed the Baghdad talks on Friday, saying they aim to reduce regional tensions.

“As to current Saudi-Iranian talks they aim to explore ways to reduce tensions in the region,” Rayed Krimly, head of policy planning at the Saudi Foreign Ministry, told Reuters.

“We hope they prove successful, but it is too early, and premature, to reach any definitive conclusions. Our evaluation will be based on verifiable deeds, and not proclamations.”

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