Fresh from the latest round of Iran nuclear negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Saudi Arabia Wednesday to ease Gulf Arab concerns about an emerging deal and discuss ways to calm instability in troubled Yemen and other Mideast nations.
Kerry left the Iran talks in the Swiss resort town of Montreux and took off for Riyadh where he will see the new Saudi monarch, King Salman, and meet separately with the foreign ministers of the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Sunni-ruled Gulf states, like Israel, are unnerved by Shiite Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons and its increasing assertiveness throughout the region.
U.S. officials say Kerry will reassure them that a deal with Tehran will not allow Iran to get the bomb and won't mean American complacency on broader security matters. Iran is actively supporting forces fighting in Syria and Iraq and is linked to Shiite rebels that recently toppled the U.S. and Arab-backed government in Yemen.
One senior official said that no matter what happens with the Iranian nuclear talks, the U.S. would continue to confront "Iranian expansion" and "aggressiveness" in the region and work closely with the Gulf states on mutual security arrangements and boosting their defense capabilities. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about Kerry's visit to Riyadh and spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity
U.S. officials said Kerry will reiterate that the U.S. supports U.N. efforts to promote a dialogue leading to a political transition in Yemen, which is embroiled in a political crisis that threatens to split the country. The U.N.-mediated talks are aimed at breaking the political stalemate between the rebels known as the Houthis and Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
On Tuesday, Hadi proposed Riyadh, the Saudi capital and headquarters of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as a possible venue for the resumption of U.N.-sponsored talks with Shiite rebels who have seized Yemen's own capital, Sanaa. But the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are almost certain to reject moving the talks to Riyadh, given Saudi Arabia's opposition to their power grab in Yemen, the kingdom's southern neighbor. Complicating the situation, the political crisis comes as Yemen's al-Qaida branch, considered by Washington the terror network's most dangerous offshoot, is stepping up attacks against the Shiite rebels.
Hadi's offer of Riyadh as negotiators' venue came during a meeting with tribal leaders in Aden, where he has been based since fleeing house arrest in Sanaa last month.
Hadi has called for the relocation of embassies to Aden, as several GCC members have done already.
The United States, which closed its embassy in Sanaa last month and evacuated its diplomatic staff, has no plans to relocate to Aden, although the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Matthew Tueller, met with Hadi in Aden on Monday. Until the crisis is resolved and the embassy reopened, Tueller and some of his staff will be based in an office at the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, the officials said.
In addition to the Iranian nuclear issue and Yemen, Kerry will also discuss the continually deteriorating conditions in Syria and the fight against Islamic State group militants there and in Iraq.
U.S. officials said Kerry would stress that the United States does not see a military solution to the conflict in Syria, but also does not think a political solution is possible while Syrian President Bashar Assad remains in power.