US working to set up ‘Arab NATO’ as bulwark against Iran
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US working to set up ‘Arab NATO’ as bulwark against Iran

National Security Council says proposed Middle East Strategic Alliance would 'bring stability to the Middle East,' thwart 'Iranian aggression'

US President Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and other officials pose for a group photo during the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and other officials pose for a group photo during the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

The United States is reportedly working to set up an “Arab NATO” security alliance of friendly Middle East states as part of its efforts to thwart Iran’s military expansionism in the region.

The alliance — which would include Egypt, Jordan and the six Gulf Cooperation Council states — is aimed at fostering further military cooperation between the countries, such as on missile defense and counter-terrorism, Reuters reported Friday.

The proposed pact, known as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, would also be aimed at deepening economic and diplomatic ties, US and Arab sources quoted by the news agency said.

“MESA will serve as a bulwark against Iranian aggression, terrorism, extremism, and will bring stability to the Middle East,” a spokesperson for the US National Security Council said.

According to Reuters, the potential alliance may be discussed at a summit in Washington in October, though the NSC spokesperson would not confirm US President Donald Trump will host such a meeting then.

The report said the idea was first brought up by Saudi Arabia ahead of Trump’s visit to Riyadh last year but did not go anywhere.

US President Donald Trump shows a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, March 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

An unnamed Iranian official said the security pact would only further fuel the divide between Iran and US-allied states in the region.

“Under the pretext of securing stability in the Middle East, Americans and their regional allies are fomenting tension in the region,” the official told Reuters.

While the ongoing diplomatic spat between Qatar and its neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could be a hindrance to the alliance, an official quoted in the report said the US has received assurances from both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that it would not be an issue.

An Emirati gunner watches for enemy fire from the rear gate of a United Arab Emirates Chinook military helicopter flying over Yemen. (AP Photo/Adam Schreck, File)

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have adopted a more confrontational approach to Shiite rival Iran in recent years, accusing it of supporting terror groups and fueling turmoil in regional countries.

The two Sunni states head a military coalition in Yemen aimed at toppling the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group and returning the internationally recognized government to power.

Under Trump, the US has adopted a much more hawkish stance toward Tehran than under his predecessor Barack Obama, culminating in his May decision to quit the 2015 deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program and reimpose punishing sanctions.

Though it was not immediately clear how the military alliance would seek to counter Iran, a CNN report on Friday said the US is weighing military action by its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia to keep open key oil shipping routes in the Middle East amid Iranian threats against the waterways.

The CNN report came just days after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen attacked a pair of Saudi oil tankers traveling through the Bab al-Mandab Strait leading to the Red Sea. The waterway is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

Iranian leaders also recently threatened to shutter the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-third of the world’s oil supply passes as it travels from the Persian Gulf.

The US in turn vowed to keep the Strait of Hormuz open and not allow Iran to jeopardize world oil supplies.

Satellite view of the Strait of Hormuz (photo credit: NASA/Public domain)
Satellite view of the Strait of Hormuz (photo credit: NASA/Public domain)

Earlier this week, US President Donald Trump issued an intense warning against Tehran, threatening that it could “suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever seen before.”

The response came after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier Sunday issued his own warning to the US leader not to “play with the lion’s tail,” saying that conflict with Iran would be the “mother of all wars.”

However, Trump tempered the threat Tuesday, saying “we’re ready to make a real deal” with Iran.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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