US seeks Saudi help on Iran sanctions
Riyadh, March 11, 2010
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah for support lobbying for UN sanctions against Iran and discussed ways to boost the kingdom's air and missile defences.
The United States is leading a push for the UN Security Council to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, and aides to Gates made no secret of their hopes that Saudi Arabia could press regional allies for help.
"We are certainly hopeful that the Saudis will use whatever influence they have, which is considerable, in this region and throughout the world to try to help us," said Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, after the talks.
The visit is the latest in a string of high-level trips by US officials to Saudi Arabia in recent months, including by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and by Admiral Mike Mullen, the top US military officer, with Iran topping the agenda.
A senior US defence official said Saudi officials were supportive of Washington's shift to pressuring Iran, after attempts by President Barack Obama to engage Tehran failed to produce results.
Israel's UN envoy cautioned this week that the outlook for imposing tough new sanctions on Iran was increasingly grim, as Russia and China worked to slow down the US push.
"It was our strong impression that this overall approach was one that the Saudis were supportive of," the US official said.
The United States has expanded land and sea-based missile defence systems in and around the Gulf to counter what it sees as Iran's growing missile threat, and arms sales to Gulf allies have risen sharply in recent years.
Saudi Arabia bought $3.3 billion in US arms in fiscal 2009, according to a Pentagon estimate, and US officials said Gates focused on broadening defences further.
"The secretary described his interest in continuing to work with the Saudis and other countries in the Gulf to build up their air and missile defence capabilities," a US defence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Part of the US effort involves promoting integration regional defences in the Gulf, such as early warning systems. "The Iranians are really a primary motivation for much of the region to stand up," the official said.
Before arriving in Riyadh, Gates and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traded barbs during briefly overlapping visits to Afghanistan earlier on Wednesday.
Just as an in Iraq, where the US sees Iran meddling, Gates has accused Tehran of playing a "double game" in Afghanistan by being friendly to Kabul while undermining the US war effort.
Gates, who also met Saudi Arabia's crown prince, pressed for Saudi engagement in Iraq, particularly as Washington prepares to withdraw its forces by the end of 2011.
King Abdullah has refused to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki or open a Saudi embassy in Baghdad, and US officials acknowledged little action was likely until the outcome of Iraq's Sunday parliamentary elections was clear. - Reuters