Saudi Arabia delivered a strong message to Iran saying its nuclear and missile programmes were a threat to global stability while accusing Tehran of orchestrating a series of attacks on oil assets in the Gulf.
Addressing Arab and Muslim leaders late Thursday at an emergency meeting in Mecca, Saudi King Salman Abdul Aziz pressed the international community to “use all means to stop Iran from interfering in other countries’ affairs”.
He said Tehran’s actions threatened international maritime trade and global oil supplies in a “glaring violation of UN treaties”.
“This is naked aggression against our stability and international security,” the Saudi ruler told the gathered officials.
Iran’s “recent criminal acts … require that all of us work seriously to preserve the security… of GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries,” the king added.
Saudi Arabia hastily called the three-day meetings in Mecca in response to the spike in tensions with its key rival, Iran. That Salman could quickly bring regional leaders and heads of state to Mecca so rapidly reflects the kingdom’s weight in the region, and its desire to project a unified position on Iran.
Saudi summit held to try to resolve US-Iran tensions
In his opening remarks, Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said the alleged sabotage of oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and drone strikes on a Saudi oil pipeline by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in recent weeks threaten the global economy and endanger regional and international security.
“We should confront it with all means of force and firmness,” he said.
An Iranian official was at the meeting where Assaf spoke. Tehran has denied any involvement in the attacks.
John Bolton, a top US security official, alleged on Wednesday Iranian mines were “almost certainly” used in the tanker operation. He provided no proof, however.
An Iranian official dismissed Bolton’s remarks as “a ludicrous claim”.
King Salman invited Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose country is home to the largest US military base in the region, to the Mecca summit.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani attended the meeting instead, the highest Qatari official to visit the kingdom since Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on the gas-rich nation.
Video images of Thursday’s gathering showed Sheikh Abdullah shaking Salman’s hand.
Thomas Pickering, a former US ambassador the UN, told Al Jazeera the Qatari prime minister’s presence at the summit was an important step.
“The invitation has opened the door more than just a little bit. His [Sheikh Abdullah’s] presence there and the handshake is a sign that Saudi Arabia wants unity in the Gulf Cooperation Council and that unity is spreading,” said Pickering.
Analysts said the emergency summit will be watched closely for whether or not the Saudis will endorse Qatar as a mediator in the dispute with Iran the same way the US has.
Earlier this month, Al Jazeera reported that Qatar’s foreign minister had held talks with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran, aiming to defuse the escalating tensions in the Gulf.
“Washington seems to have bet on Doha to de-escalate by opening back channels with Tehran. The question is whether Saudi and especially UAE can agree on Doha as a mediator,” Andreas Krieg from King’s College London told Al Jazeera.
“The fact that the Saudis contacted the emir of Qatar directly suggests that the tension with Iran is taken very seriously in Riyadh. So the kingdom is ready to build a broader-than-usual consensus on how to deal with Iran,” Krieg said.
Gulf states have a joint defence force under the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but the 39-year-old alliance has been fractured by the Qatar blockade that began in June 2017.
Tensions with Iran
Animosity has risen between the US and Iran after Washington pulled out of a multinational nuclear deal with Tehran, reimposed sanctions and boosted its military presence in the Gulf.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on a trip to Iraq this month that Tehran wanted balanced ties with their Gulf neighbours and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.
One of the UAE’s main newspapers said in an editorial, which is usually state-approved, the offer was “bizarre”.
“No Mr Zarif. We are not buying your ‘nice neighbour’ routine,” said the front-page editorial in Gulf News daily.