Arab States And Iran's Nuclear Talks

Mar 16, 2015
Originally published on March 16, 2015 8:12 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, let's hear what Iran's neighbors think about that country's nuclear negotiations. The talks resume in Switzerland today on a deal with the West over Iran's nuclear program. Those talks are being intensely followed by neighboring nations, especially Saudi Arabia, which worry about Iran's power. NPR's Deborah Amos has reported recently from Saudi Arabia. She is now in Iraq. Hi, Deborah.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are Iran's neighbors thinking?

AMOS: Well, here's what they mostly worry about - about what's not in this deal. And what they see is that Tehran now controls four Arab capitals - Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut and Sana'a in Yemen. And they see there's nothing in this deal to limit Iranian power.

I'll give you an example of what has been happening in Iraq. I talked to Elizabeth Dickinson. She's a Gulf analyst. She lives in Abu Dhabi. And she says Gulf leaders are watching this military campaign into Tikrit, and, you know, it's to take out these ISIS militants who are there. The problem for them is that the fighting force are Shia militias that have been trained and are being led by Iranian advisors. And they are coming up from Baghdad to kick out ISIS out of Tikrit. This is the Sunni heartland, but these are Iranian-backed forces. Here's what she said.

ELIZABETH DICKINSON: Just because of the magnitude of the Iranian influence and the apparent acquiescence of the United States to that interference or to that influence - this is extremely alarming to them because - exactly the opposite of what the Americans promised they were going to do in working with the new government in Baghdad, which was to limit the influence of the Shia militias.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. So we have a situation, Deborah Amos, where the United States is working to limit Iran's nuclear program and the Saudis and others are saying, well, that's very nice, but Iran is using means of power other than nuclear to grab control of the whole region, and you're not doing anything. That's the complaint?

AMOS: That's the complaint. And so what they're doing is - you can see it with the Saudis - they have pulled out all the stops on diplomatic meetings. King Salman - he's new in his job, but he met with everybody last week. The Turks came; the Egyptians came; the Jordanians came. And the most important ally is Pakistan. That's not an Arab state, but it is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country. It's the only Muslim state that has a nuclear weapon. So Pakistan's prime minister was summoned to Riyadh. He's been given lots of financial support. And it's a message that Pakistan is on team Saudi as these Iranian talks come down to the wire.

INSKEEP: Are the Saudis actually on the same team as Israel here, because, of course, Israel's raised its own concerns about a nuclear deal?

AMOS: The Saudis weren't unhappy that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made what is a famous speech to Congress - he essentially made their case. But it's not the Saudi way to be that open. They were quietly behind the scenes. They're always the quiet approach. The U.S. still remains their most important ally, so they are working behind the scenes. They are pressing for U.S. security guarantees. They want the Americans, if they conclude this deal, to limit Iranian regional power, and they have been pressing on all fronts to get that done.

INSKEEP: Deborah, thanks very much.

AMOS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Deborah Amos speaking with us from northern Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.