In first interview with Arab newspaper, Obama says Iran sponsors terrorism

Ahram Online , Wednesday 13 May 2015

Barack Obama, in interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, offers a sharp rebuke to Iran while underlining the added importance of ensuring Tehran does not develop nuclear weapons

President Barack Obama meets with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, center, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo)

Conducting his first interview with an Arab newspaper, US President Barack Obama spoke to the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat one day ahead of Wednesday's Camp David summit with Gulf leaders.

The summit is expected to tackle several issues of US-Gulf concern in the Middle East, mainly the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran and the Saudi-led military operation against Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Obama hoped that the summit will allow the United States to boost cooperation with Gulf States in areas of missile defence, maritime security, cyber security, and border security.

Obama also hoped for common efforts in fighting terrorism in the region and settling the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya. He asserted US commitment to the security of the Gulf region.

"Across six decades, the United States has worked with GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries to advance our mutual interests. Americans have served in the region, and given their lives, for our mutual security. Thousands of US personnel serve in the Gulf region today to reinforce regional stability," Obama was quoted as saying.

"Our armed forces train together in numerous major military exercises every year. So there should be no doubt about the commitment of the United States to the security of the region and to our GCC partners," the US president said.

Concerning Iran, Obama offered a harsh indictment of its regional policies. He described the Islamic republic as a "state sponsor of terrorism," giving examples of its support to Al-Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Houthi rebels in Yemen.

"So countries in the region are right to be deeply concerned about Iran’s activities, especially its support for violent proxies inside the borders of other nations", stated Obama.

For this reason the US president said he believes that reaching a comprehensive deal with Tehran "is so important."

Obama said it will be harder for the international community "to counter and deter" Iran if Iran finalised its nuclear programme, for it managed to engage "in these activities" without possessing a nuclear weapon.

"We’ve continued to fully enforce sanctions against Iran for its support of terrorism and its ballistic missile programme, and we will enforce these sanctions going forward, even if we reach a nuclear deal with Iran," Obama underlined.

The Islamic State and armed militias

"A lack of self-determination helped fuel the frustrations that gave rise to the Arab Spring," Obama said in his interview, offering his explanation for uprisings across the Arab region in 2011. He said that Tunisia succeeded to make a progress, but on the other hand Syria couldn't.

Obama, who announced last September an international coalition led by United States to counter the danger of the "terrorist" Islamic State group, said that the reason for the presence of violence and extremism in Syria is that President Bashar Al-Assad launched a war on his own citizens who called for greater freedoms.

For the last four years the US has continued to support the right of people to choose their governments and to live in dignity, Obama said. "The United States will continue to support universal rights in the Middle East, just as we do all over the world," he added.

The US president described the Islamic State group as well as Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front as a bankrupt ideology that needs to impose itself on the Syrian people.

"The United States continues to support the moderate Syrian opposition," Obama declared. He also said that US-led airstrikes will continue in Syria as a part of an extended operation to destroy the Islamic State group.

Meanwhile, Obama said that instability in Iraq helped seed the presence of Al-Qaeda, which later spawned the Islamic State group.

"Iraq will only succeed if its leaders govern in an inclusive way where Iraqis from all backgrounds see that they have a future in Iraq," Obama stated.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Seeing a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine was one of Obama's hopes as US president. Now close to end his presidency, this hope remains unachieved.

"I will never give up on the hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the United States will never stop working to realise that goal," Obama said.

"Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is necessary. It is also in the national security interests of the United States," he added.

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