Iran’s nuclear deal with global powers was met with wary silence from Arab
countries on Sunday, but as the day progressed, some of them began expressing
their support for the deal.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, despite
their mistrust of Iran, gave a qualified welcome on Monday to Tehran’s interim
deal with world powers over its disputed nuclear program.
“If there was
goodwill, this agreement could represent a preliminary step towards a
comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear program,” Saudi Arabia’s cabinet
said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.
The kingdom said it
hoped further steps would follow that would guarantee the rights of all states
in the region to peaceful nuclear energy.
Earlier, Qatar and Kuwait came
out in favor of the deal struck on Sunday after marathon talks in Geneva, saying
they hoped it would help to preserve regional stability and security.
Iran’s Arab neighbors are deeply uneasy about Tehran’s diplomatic rehabilitation
and have done little to hide their skepticism as talks progressed on the nuclear
deal in recent weeks, but at least in public many have now given their
“There is a lot of happy talk in the West about this being a
real opening, a transformative moment,” similar to the end of the cold war. But
for most Gulf actors, this is “way over the top and plays into their fears of
[US President Barack] Obama” and his rush for a deal, Salman Shaikh, the
director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, told The Jerusalem Post on
The Gulf states perceive this deal to have the potential to
weaken them in the long term, he said, adding that the deal itself is reversible
and does not stop Iran from enriching uranium and breaking out in the
The Gulf states are thinking more now than they were two weeks
ago about developing nuclear programs, and this is the direction things are
going if Iran’s program is not stopped, he said.
Iran’s only two Arab
friends – Iraq and Syria – were quick to praise the deal on Sunday, as was the
Palestinian Authority, which welcomed it for putting pressure on Israel. The
United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also spoke out in support.
the agreement was “an important step towards safeguarding peace and stability in
the region,” according to a statement by the Foreign Ministry posted on its
website late on Sunday.
“The State of Qatar calls for making the Middle
East a nuclear weapon-free zone,” the ministry said.
Ministry Undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah said he hoped the agreement “would
pave the way for a permanent accord that would defuse tension, and preserves the
stability and security of the region,” according to state news agency
All Arab countries apart from Syria and Iraq are ruled by Sunnis
who mainly regard Shi’ite Iran as a foe and have been deeply uneasy over the
prospect of any rapprochement with the West that would benefit
Arab leaders worry that the deal, under which Iran is being given
relief from sanctions in return for curbs to its nuclear program, signals a thaw
in the 30 years of hostility between Tehran and Washington which will give Iran
more regional clout.
In the hours before Sunday’s deal was sealed, Gulf
Arab leaders, including Saudi King Abdullah and the rulers of Qatar and Kuwait,
met late on Saturday night to discuss “issues of interest to the three
The Gulf Arab rulers oppose Iran on countless fronts across the
region, including Syria, where they fund and arm rebels fighting against Iran’s
friend, President Bashar Assad.
They accuse Tehran of fomenting unrest in
a range of countries including Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon and Iraq.
believes the positive responses from some Gulf states come “from hope rather
than conviction, but they have no choice other than seeing how things play
Omar has traditionally been closer to Iran, while Qatar and Kuwait
tend to be more nuanced in their positions, he said.
By contrast, Iraq,
which has a Shi’ite-led Arab government and is close to Iran, was quick to
praise the agreement.
“The reaching of a deal between the Islamic
Republic of Iran and the six international powers is seen as a major step for
the region’s security and stability levels,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said
in a statement.
“Iraq ... expresses its full support for this step and
its readiness to back it, so as to ensure the completion of the remaining phases
and to promote a climate of dialogue and peaceful solutions,” the statement
The Syrian government of Assad, a long-term ally of Iran and a
member of the Alawite sect which is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, was also
“Syria feels that reaching such an agreement is a sign that
political solutions to crisis in the region are the best path for securing peace
and stability, far from any threats of foreign intervention or use of force,” a
ministry official was cited as saying by state news agency SANA.
Inbari, a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public
Affairs, told the Post that everyone in the region knew an agreement was in the
Inbari thinks that Egypt and the Saudis have decided to
demonstrate their displeasure with US policy by creating some distance but not
going as far as breaking off relations.
The Saudis are probably saying to
Qatar behind closed doors, “We hope you will cooperate with us and not be
egoistic,” said Inbari.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have a competitive
relationship and their aims do not completely align.
In the meantime, the
Arabs are happy that Israel is making all the noise. They do not want to appear
to be in a campaign with Israel, he said.