NEWS | March 11, 2010

U.S. seeks Saudi help with Iran sanctions

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates speaks with Chief of Staff of the Saudi armed forces, Gen. Muyaya, upon his arrival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 10.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates speaks with Chief of Staff of the Saudi armed forces, Gen. Muyaya, upon his arrival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 10.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (March 10, 2010) – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked Saudi King Abdallah today to use his country’s influence to convince other nations to support United Nations sanctions on Iran, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said here.

Gates met with the Saudi monarch and Crown Prince Sultan, who also serves as minister of defense and aviation. Gates also met privately with Abdallah at a ranch outside Riyadh.

The meetings were cordial and constructive, and focused on a range of issues besides Iranian nuclear ambitions and missile proliferation, a senior defense official said, speaking on background. The leaders also talked about the importance of working together on Yemen, Saudi Arabia re-engaging with Iraq and the situation in Afghanistan, the official added.

In his meetings here, Gates explained the overall U.S. approach on Iran, the official said, noting that President Barack Obama offered to have genuine engagement with Iran, an offer that largely was rebuffed. “We are now working with the international community to turn up the pressure to get a tough sanction resolution,” the official said.

Gates told the Saudi leaders that the engagement offer proved U.S. sincerity, the defense official said, adding that Iran’s refusal to engage showed the country’s true motivations and helped to build credibility and bring international consensus to imposing sanctions.

While the offer to engage still remains open, “we have moved from a phase that prioritized engagement towards a period of pressure,” the official said. “It was our overall impression that this move was one the Saudis were supportive of.”

Gates stressed that the United States would like to see any sanctions target the Iranian regime, and not the Iranian people, the official said.

On Iraq, the secretary asked that Saudi Arabia engage with its northern neighbor, the official told reporters. The Saudis seemed noncommittal, he said, and indicated they first want to see the results of the March 7 Iraqi elections.

The Saudis are concerned about al-Qaida on the Arabian peninsula – especially the growth of that terror organization in Yemen – and have launched operations against the terrorists in their country near the border with Yemen. Gates expressed his condolences for Saudi losses in the operations and his congratulations for the successes they have enjoyed there.

The Saudis share U.S. concerns with al-Qaida on the Arabian peninsula, the senior defense official said, and they see the use of working together against the group.

Regional security architecture also was among the topics Gates discussed with Saudi leaders. Many Gulf states are worried about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the Iranian missile program. Gates urged the Saudis to consider working with other nations to counter Iran and said the United States would work with the nations across the region to stitch together this defensive architecture, the official told reporters. “While Iran is not the explanation for the need for this, it is certainly an accelerant,” the official said.

The leaders discussed the situation in Afghanistan generally, and there is broad agreement that a military solution is not enough in Afghanistan. Afghanistan requires an all-government approach, and the Saudis understand that, the official said.

“The secretary said that while the military is not a sufficient solution, it is important to lay a foundation of security to allow the other aspects to take hold,” the official said.