Gulf Arab countries gave cautious backing on Monday to the nuclear deal with Iran, giving the White House an important diplomatic card as it seeks to gain congressional support for the agreement.
Speaking alongside US secretary of state John Kerry after a meeting in Doha, Qatari foreign minister Khalid al-Attiyah said that the agreement which the Obama administration helped negotiate with Iran would make the “region safer and more stable”.
“This was the best option amongst other options in order to try to come up with a solution for the nuclear weapons of Iran though dialogue,” Mr al-Attiyah said, speaking on behalf of the Gulf Co-operation Council. “We are sure that all the efforts that have been exerted make this region very secure, very stable.”
The careful endorsement by the GCC countries could prove politically valuable for the Obama administration which is facing intense criticism from Republican lawmakers over the deal agreed last month in Vienna, as well as from the Israeli government.
The comments will help the administration counter one of the criticisms of its nuclear diplomacy with Iran — that it was openly opposed by both Israel and Washington’s Arab allies.
Congress is expected to vote on the Iran nuclear agreement before mid-September. While the administration is likely to lose the vote, given the strength and unanimity of Republican opposition, US officials are confident that there will not be the two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress that would be needed to overturn a presidential veto.
Several of the Gulf countries have also been sharp critics in the past about the administration’s eagerness to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, which many of the GCC governments see as a rival bent on regional domination.
However, the tone started to shift with the May summit at Camp David organised by the White House where the administration proposed increased military co-operation with the GCC to counter potential threats from Iran in the region.
While many of the GCC countries are concerned that the financial windfall from the agreement could give Iran more leeway to promote its proxies in conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, they appear to have concluded that there is little to be gained from more public disagreement with Washington.
Speaking in Doha on Monday, Mr Kerry said that the US would “expedite certain arms sales that are needed and that have taken too long in the past”. Echoing commitments President Barack Obama made at the May Camp David summit, he said that the US would step up efforts to share intelligence and hold more joint military exercises with Arab allies.
Before arriving in Doha, Mr Kerry visited Cairo where he met Egyptian president Abdeh Fatah al-Sisi. Mr Kerry said the US was likely to restart a joint military exercise with Egypt that was cancelled in 2013 after the ouster of then president Mohamed Morsi and was looking at other ways to increase co-operation with the country’s military.
However, he also said that Egypt would not be able to effectively fight terrorism if it did not respect human rights at home, warning that “the success of our fight against terrorism depends on building trust between the authorities and the public”.