Saudi king warns of 'Iran threat' to Gulf states

Saudi king warns of 'Iran threat' to Gulf states
King Salman warned Tuesday of 'Iran threat' at a meeting of Arab Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia, ahead of US-Gulf summit later in May.
3 min read
French President Francois Hollande is the first Western leader to sit in on meeting [AFP]

Saudi Arabia's King Salman warned against "a threat from Iran" during a summit in Riyadh on Tuesday.

The king spoke of the need to confront an external threat that "aims to expand control and impose its hegemony", threatening regional stability and creating "sectarian sedition".

The comments came as Gulf Arab leaders gathered in the Saudi capital for their annual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit, founded to integrate the Gulf countries more deeply.

It included leaders from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

French President Francois Hollande also attended the GCC summit, making him the first Western leader to do so since the bloc's creation in 1981.

Paris has been deepening political and economic relations with the oil and gas-rich Gulf monarchies.

Hollande arrived in Riyadh from GCC member Qatar, where he was present on Monday for the signing of a 6.3-billion-euro ($7-billion) deal between French aerospace firm Dassault and Qatari defence officials.

The agreement includes an order for 24 Rafale fighter jets, with an option on a further 12.

France and Saudi Arabia also discussed economic projects worth tens of billions of euros, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday.

"If concluded, these 20 projects would be worth tens of billions of euros," Fabius told reporters in Riyadh.

Hollande's presence as "guest of honour" at the Gulf summit comes just over a week before the GCC heads of state travel to their traditional ally Washington for talks.

President Barack Obama called that meeting in a bid to allay their fears over any US rapprochement with Iran, and to brainstorm on reducing regional conflicts.

Topics of discussion

"You go down that list, it's very complex," Anthony Cordesman, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said of the challenges facing leaders of the oil- and gas-rich region.

The Saudi regime will be under scrutiny at the summit six days after King Salman announced a new heir and made a son second in line to rule.

The appointments of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in his early 30s, confirmed a shift to the next generation of leadership.

Yemen will also be a vital topic of discussion.

All but Oman are members of the Saudi-led coalition that launched airstrikes in Yemen in late March against the Houthi rebels and their allies after they seized control of large parts of the country including the capital Sanaa.

On Sunday, Yemeni sources said the coalition had sent a "limited" ground force of several dozen soldiers to assist pro-government fighters in Aden.

The GCC is expected to discuss what steps can be taken as the rebels hold out despite weeks of airstrikes.

International concern has been growing over the conflict, which has seen at least 1,200 people killed since late March and thousands wounded.

The United Nations has repeatedly warned that already impoverished Yemen faces a major humanitarian crisis, and French aid group Action Against Hunger (ACF) on Monday urged French President Francois Hollande to push for a ceasefire.

Most GCC nations are also members of the US-led coalition bombing Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and Tuesday's summit will lay the groundwork for talks between the group's leaders and US President Barack Obama at the White House later this month.

Obama is expected to reassure GCC members on the framework accord reached on Tehran's contested nuclear programme.

Saudi Arabia and other GCC nations fear that regional rival Iran will continue efforts to develop an atomic bomb after the sanctions that are strangling Iran's economy are lifted under the deal.

Tehran denies any attempt to develop a nuclear weapon.

Before Hollande, the only other foreign leader invited to a summit of the 34-year-old GCC was Iran's then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in 2007.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will also visit Saudi Arabia this week before continuing to France for talks on regional security, the White House has said.