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US pressing ahead with 'Arab NATO' to confront Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C) participates in a GCC meeting in New York [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 September, 2018

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The Middle East Strategic Alliance (Mesa) including GCC states plus Jordan and Egypt will aim at "stopping Iran's malign activity in the region".
The Trump administration is pressing ahead with plans to create an Arab alliance in a bid to confront Iran's presence in the region.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in New York on Friday with foreign ministers from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to advance the project to form a so-called Arab NATO.

Its inception is set to escalate already frosty relations between the US and Iran, who have clashed frequently since President Donald Trump took office.

The State Department said Pompeo had stressed the need to defeat the Islamic State group and other terrorist groups as well as ending the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, securing Iraq and "stopping Iran's malign activity in the region".

"All participants agreed on the need to confront threats from Iran directed at the region and the United States,"  the department said in a statement.

It added that the ministers had "productive discussions" on setting up what is to be known as the "Middle East Strategic Alliance" (Mesa) to promote security and stability in the region.

Comment: 'Arab NATO' would be a disaster for democracy

The statement gave no time frame for establishing the alliance.

Meanwhile US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs Tim Lenderking told UAE news site The National the alliance would be launched at a US-hosted summit in January.

Analysts have predicted the attempt to unite the Arab countries would face a stumbling block over its member states' varying foreign policies and outlooks. One reason for the blockade of Qatar was because Doha's foreign policy diverged from Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

Since June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, along with Egypt, have been boycotting Qatar, over accusations Doha is not doing enough to fight extremism, financing terrorism in some cases and getting too close to Iran. Qatar categorically denies the charges.

Lenderking said the crisis would have to be resolved down the line. "In the long term, with the Mesa that we envision, it would be hard to have two or three countries in this alliance in this kind of confrontation... We can continue to develop the concept and work on some of the pillars but ultimately you have to see the rift de-escalated," he said.

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