Kerry off to Mideast with Egypt, Iran deal, Syria on agenda

Washington: Secretary of State John Kerry is returning to the Middle East today for security talks in Egypt and discussions in Qatar with Arab foreign ministers whose countries are wary of the nuclear deal struck with Iran. He will not visit Israel, America’s foremost Mideast ally and the primary foreign opponent of the Iran agreement. US officials rejected suggestions that Kerry’s omission of Israel from the itinerary signaled that the Obama administration had given up trying to convince Israeli leaders of the merits of the Iran deal. They noted that Defense Secretary Ash Carter had visited the Jewish state in mid-July and that contacts with Israeli officials continue to be robust.

The last time Kerry spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on July 16, two days after the Iran deal was concluded.

Officials said the Iran-related portion of the trip was primarily designed to follow-up on a May meeting that President Barack Obama hosted for Arab leaders at Camp David at which the US promised them enhanced security cooperation and expedited defense sales to guard against a potential Iranian threat.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss Kerry’s trip publicly, said the talks in Qatar would take stock of progress made on those goals, particularly since the Iran deal was signed.

One US official said that Kerry would use the meeting with the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council to “try to respond to any remaining questions they might have, hopefully satisfy them and ensure that they are supporting our effort going forward.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq in a similar tour earlier this week to talk to his counterparts about the Iran deal.

Saudi Arabia is the largest and most influential member of the council and has been publicly supportive of the Iran deal, albeit with reservations. Just this week, the State Department authorized the sale to Saudi Arabia of USD 5.4 billion in Patriot missiles and related equipment along with USD 500 million in ammunition.