An “Arab NATO” security coalition of Middle East states is being planned by Washington as a buffer to thwart Iran’s military expansion in the region.
The broad alliance would include Egypt, Jordan and the six Gulf Cooperation Council states. The aim is to drive military cooperation between the countries, combining missile defense and counter-terrorism as a key starting point, Reuters reported.
The U.S. is expected to play an organizing and supporting role in the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) while staying outside the group, which will include six Persian Gulf Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan.
MESA would not be limited to expanding military means. It is also aimed at strengthening 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 U.S. 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 stalled soon after.
An unnamed Iranian official said the prospect of an Arab NATO security pact would only further fuel the divide between Iran and U.S.-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 fledgling MESA grouping, an official quoted in the report said the U.S. has received assurances from both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that it would not be an issue.
The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain ended relations and communication with Qatar in June 2017, accusing the country of supporting terrorism and interfering in their internal affairs. The move was followed by their imposing a land, naval and air blockade on Doha, which denies all the accusations.
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