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US welcomes Saudi effort to ‘checkmate’ Iran

Updated April 21, 2017
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis. ─ Reuters
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis. ─ Reuters

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of Defence James Mattis has welcomed Saudi-led efforts to ‘checkmate’ Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and adjacent regions.

In a transcript released by the Department of Defence in Washington on Thursday, Mr Mattis said that the move to form an alliance of Arab and other Muslim countries to counter Iranian influence was a positive development.

“What we’re seeing is the nations in the region and others elsewhere trying to checkmate Iran and the amount of disruption, the amount of instability they can cause,” he said.

After a meeting with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman, Mr Mattis praised the country’s leading role in regional security as well as in countering Iranian influence and negotiating peace in Yemen, the Pentagon reported.

The US defence chief also noted that Saudi Arabia was providing care to Syrian refugees in Jordan and providing energy supplies and other support to Egypt “as they work through some really tough financial times”.

“It’s very clear that Saudi Arabia is stepping up to its regional leadership role … at a key time in terms of trying to restore stability in this key region in the world,” he said.

In reply to a question about Iran, Mr Mattis said “Iran’s impact” was felt across the region as it maintained a militia in Lebanon, deployed its military inside Syria and was continuing to hold President Bashar al Assad in power. “Everywhere you look, if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran,” he observed.

That’s why, Saudi Arabia and other nations were getting together to counter this influence, he added.

The United States also backs the Saudi-led, 34-nation Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT), headed by the former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif. While the force’s anticipated role in Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen has made it controversial, the United States appreciates its aim to combat terrorism.

In reply to a question about Yemen, Mr Mattis said: “Our goal is to push this conflict into the UN-brokered negotiations to ensure that it ends as soon as possible. It’s got to be ended.”

But he accused Iran of fomenting troubles in Yemen as well.

“Iranian influence, Iranian support, infiltrating weapons that have been caught in transit by the French navy, by the Australian navy, by the US navy, shows that Iran once again is no help,” he said.

The US defence chief urged the international community to work together to “overcome Iran’s efforts to destabilise yet another country and create another militia in their image of Lebanese Hezbollah.”

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2017