President Barack Obama on Thursday pledged to remain vigilant against Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East as he tried to allay concerns of Persian Gulf allies wary of his nuclear deal with their regional rival.
“None of our nations have an interest in conflict with Iran,” Obama said as he met with top officials from six Arab nations at a Gulf summit in Saudi Arabia.
Obama, finishing his brief trip to the kingdom, said he and the Gulf leaders had agreed about ways to move forward in campaign the Islamic State group, with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council agreeing to “increase their contributions to the fight.”
He said the nations had also agreed to help Iraq. That was a nod to Obama’s request to Gulf countries to step up their financial and political support for rebuilding Iraq after years of war.
Obama’s comments in the Saudi capital came after talks aimed at reassuring and coordinating with Mideast allies that harbor serious doubts about Obama’s outreach to Iran and about U.S. policy toward Syria, where a civil war rages on.
Obama said the fragile cessation of hostilities there was under “tremendous strain” and he decried continued violations, but made the case for sticking to the U.S. strategy of using diplomatic talks to pursuing a political transition for Syria.
“This violence is yet another reminder that there’s just one way to end this civil war,” Obama said, adding that the Gulf leaders had agreed.
The summit followed bilateral talks that Obama held with Saudi King Salman on Wednesday shortly after arriving in the kingdom. Besides Saudi Arabia, the GCC includes the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain.
Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and other Gulf countries share the U.S. view that IS militants pose a threat, and have joined the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the group. But they want the U.S. to do more to attempt to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.
The Gulf states are also skeptical of Obama’s willingness to negotiate with Shiite Iran, and fear that last year’s nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic will lead to a rebalancing of regional stances at their expense. Obama said even with the deal, the U.S. and its Gulf partners had “serious concerns” about ongoing Iranian behavior, including arms shipments that have been interdicted.
“We will remain vigilant to make sure Iran fulfills its commitments, just as we fulfill ours,” Obama said.
The U.S. has said Iran is meeting its commitments under the nuclear deal while continuing to violate other international obligations. Yet Obama has also faced intense criticism from many Republicans in the U.S. as well as Sunni-led countries for sanctions relief the U.S. is granting Iran under the deal.