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Gulf states want Iran deal talks to address Tehran’s missiles program, support for proxy groups

The Gulf Cooperation Council’s statement on Wednesday echoed similar demands from members of Congress.
Riyadh skyline

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said Wednesday that the ongoing talks on Iran’s nuclear program should include deliberations on Iran’s missiles program and support for proxy groups in the Middle East. The council also asked to be part of the negotiations. 

The foreign ministers of the GCC member states said any nuclear deal with Iran must account for Iran’s policies in the region. 

“The Ministerial Council warned of the danger of separating between the ramifications of a nuclear agreement with Iran and its disruptive activities to the stability in the region,” the ministers said. 

The GCC released a lengthy statement summarizing its meeting in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

The statement was in response to the indirect talks occurring in Vienna between Iran and the Biden administration on Tehran’s nuclear program. The two are negotiating a possible US return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which removed international sanctions on Iran in exchange for the Islamic Republic scaling down its nuclear program. The United States under President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018 and Iran is no longer in compliance with its stipulations. The remaining European and Asian parties to the deal are mediating the negotiations. 

The GCC said the negotiations need to encompass more than Iran’s nuclear program. They specifically mentioned Iran’s “sponsorship of terrorist and sectarian militias,” its missile program and Iran’s alleged “threats to international shipping lanes.” The GCC also demanded to be part of any international negotiations with Iran and repeated its opposition to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. 

The “sectarian militias” refers to Iran’s support for paramilitary groups in the Middle East, including the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are fighting a Saudi-led military coalition, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Most of Iran’s allies are Shiite Muslim organizations. The shipping reference is about several maritime security incidents in the Persian Gulf in the past year involving Iran. The Gulf and the United States are also concerned about Iran’s ballistics missiles program

Arab states in the Gulf have long been concerned about Iran’s policies in the region. Last year, the GCC asked the United Nations to extend a weapons embargo on Iran. 

Saudi Arabia and Iran in particular have a deep rivalry. The two regional powers back opposite sides in the Yemeni civil war, and Riyadh is also concerned about Iranian influence in the Shiite community in eastern Saudi Arabia, among other issues. Iran and Saudi Arabia have participated in talks to ease tensions hosted in Iraq this year, however.