The United States suggested Thursday it was open to a “new arrangement” with Iran for peacefully resolving disputes such as Tehran’s recent ballistic missile tests.
Setting the stage for President Barack Obama’s summit with regional leaders in Saudi Arabia later this month, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council to advance a series of proposals aimed at easing Arabs’ concerns about last year’s Iran nuclear deal and the warming of ties between the US and Iran. These include providing new counterterrorism, conventional military, missile defense and cybersecurity capabilities.
Washington has denounced Iran’s ballistic missiles program, including a March 9 test of two missiles, as a violation of a United Nations ban.
But Kerry, a moment after declaring America was united with Persian Gulf countries against the Iranian missile tests, said the US and its partners were telling Iran that they were “prepared to work on a new arrangement to find a peaceful solution to these issues.”
He said Iran first had to “make it clear to everybody that they are prepared to cease these kinds of activities that raise questions about credibility and questions about intentions.”
Kerry did not elaborate further.
The US, France, Britain and Germany had previously called on the UN Security Council to formulate an “appropriate response” to Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests which they say were carried out in defiance of a UN resolution and to threaten Israel. An Iranian news agency said had the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” written on them in Hebrew.
The administration, under pressure to react to the missile tests, last week sanctioned two entities involved in launching the missiles, an industrial group and the Revolutionary Guard Corps missile command. Such sanctions make it harder for the entities to trade in dollars or for individuals attached to the entities to travel.
Republican lawmakers and some Democrats have said they want more. Some are seeking new congressional sanctions to target the missile program. Two of the Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, have cited the tests as reason for the United States to abrogate the nuclear deal with Tehran and reimpose sanctions.
In the meeting with Kerry, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir spoke of the threat posed by Iran as a most pressing concern.
“If Iran wants to have normal relations,” al-Jubeir said through an interpreter, “it has to change its policies.” He said that includes no more weapons smuggling to countries at peace or war on the Arabian Peninsula, and no more interference in others’ internal affairs.
“If Iran continues its aggressive policy,” al-Jubeir added, “it will be difficult to deal with Iran.”
Kerry highlighted the role of Western interdictions of Iranian weapons shipments. Four have been stopped in the last six months, with the US, Britain and France seizing anti-tank munitions, sniper rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
All were believed intended for Yemen’s Shiite rebels battling Saudi Arabia, helping reinforce fears among the Sunni kingdoms that Iran is threatening their stability.
While Kerry vowed to “push back” against such Iranian provocations, he also emphasized the Islamic republic’s capacity to contribute to peace. He cited Iran’s assistance in securing a truce in Syria between the Iranian-backed government and rebels supported by Western and Arab countries. And he called on Tehran to act similarly in Yemen.
The setting of the meeting in Bahrain underscored Arab concerns. The Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority country is particularly sensitive to Tehran’s actions and rhetoric, given its geography just across the Gulf, its demographics and the occasional statements of Iranian officials calling for the country’s annexation. Iran is a Shiite power.
At a news conference with Kerry earlier in the day, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said Iran must work as hard on restoring relations in the region as it did on securing the nuclear accord. He decried Iran’s “hegemonic interventions,” yet promised that his country would take two steps toward rapprochement for every step by the Iranians.
In a ceremony to mark Iran’s National Day of Nuclear Technology, the Islamic Republic on Thursday announced the unveiling of twelve new, self-developed nuclear products in several different fields, ranging from fuel and laser technology to power plants and reactors.
Among the products unveiled at the ceremony, which was attended by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, were new centrifuge systems and fuel rod complexes for testing reactors, according to the Iranian Fars news.
The report quoted a spokesman for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization referring to “new nuclear achievements” in “fuel, laser, power plants and health fields.”
During Thursday’s event, Rouhani also announced the establishment of the Pasman Gor nuclear site in Anarak region, as well as the publication of three books related to nuclear technology and the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
On Wednesday, Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan said the country intends to produce the powerful explosive Octogen for use in the warheads of its missiles to improve their “destructive and penetration power.”
Octogen is used as an explosive in penetrating missile warheads and as a solid rocket fuel — but is also employed as part of the detonator in an atomic bomb.
The nuclear agreement passed in July 2015 and implemented in January, lifted punishing economic sanctions and has allowed Iran to forge fresh economic and diplomatic ties with the West. In return Iran agreed to dismantle the weapons-capable aspects of its nuclear program.
Iran maintains that because it cannot develop nuclear weapons under the deal, no missile is capable of carrying a nuclear weapon.