Saudi Arabia and Israel demanded at the Munich security conference that Iran should be punished, saying that the country was propping up the Syrian government, developing ballistic missiles and funding terrorism in the region.
Turkey also joined the de facto united front against Tehran as Saudi and Israeli ministers rejected an appeal from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for Sunni Gulf Arab states to work with Tehran to reduce violence across the region.
Zarif opened Sunday’s session with the call for dialogue to address “anxieties” in the region. This followed a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Oman and Kuwait last week to try to improve ties, his first visit to the Gulf states since taking power in 2013.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian foreign minister, called for Arab Gulf states to work with his country to reduce violence across the region.
“We have enough problems in this region so we want to start a dialogue with countries we call brothers in Islam,” he said.
Asked if Iran’s envisioned regional dialogue could include Israel, Zarif said Tehran was looking at a more “modest” approach. “I’m focusing on the Persian Gulf. We have enough problems in this region so we want to start a dialogue with countries we call brothers in Islam,” he said.
Zarif dismissed any suggestions his country would ever seek to develop nuclear weapons. When asked about the new U.S. administration’s tough rhetoric on Iran’s role in the region and calls to review the nuclear deal, he said Tehran did not respond well to threats or sanctions.
United against Iran
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, on Sunday described Iran as the main sponsor of global “terrorism” and a destabilizing force in the Middle East.
“Iran remains the single main sponsor of terrorism in the world,” he told delegates at the conference.
“It’s determined to upend the order in the Middle East … [and] until and unless Iran changes its behavior, it would be very difficult to deal with a country like this.”
Al-Jubeir said Iran was propping up the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, funding the Houthi movement in Yemen and fomenting violence across the region.
The international community needed to set clear “red lines” to halt Iran’s actions, Jubeir said, calling for banking, travel and trade restrictions aimed at changing Iran’s behavior.
He sidestepped a question about Israel’s call for concerted action with Sunni Arab states amid growing speculation that the two countries could normalize relations and join forces to oppose Tehran, much as Turkey has done.
The six Arab members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially Saudi Arabia, accuse Iran of using sectarianism to interfere in Arab countries and build its own sphere of influence in the Middle East. Iran denies the accusations.
For his part, Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defense minister, said Iran’s ultimate objective was to undermine Saudi Arabia and called for a dialogue between Israel and Arab countries to defeat “radical” elements in the region.
“The real division is not Jews, Muslims … but moderate people versus radical people,” he told the Munich conference delegates on Sunday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also criticized what he called an Iranian “sectarian policy” aimed at undermining Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
“Turkey is very much against any kind of division, religious or sectarian,” he said. “It’s good that we are now normalizing our relations with Israel.”