Rishi Sunak, the British prime minister, has pledged to improve relations with Persian Gulf Arab states beyond “defense cooperation” and stressed the threat from Iran.
Sunak met UAE president Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyanon the sidelines of the COP27 United Nations climate gathering in Egypt. Beleaguered over bullying allegations against a leading minister back in London, Sunak told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya that the United Kingdom was “lucky in its important and historical relations with the Gulf states.”
Britain has been a major regional arms supplier, with around 60 percent of its annual £110-billion ($126 billion) weapons exports going to the Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia, easily the region’s highest defense spender, taking the lion’s share. But a small amount has been going to the UAE, with only £887 million ($1.17 billion) to the UAE in the decade up to 2017, and France in December 2021 securing an €21-billion sale ($21 billion) to the UAE of advanced Rafale jets.
While the UAE and Iran have restored diplomatic relations since President Ebrahim Raisi took office in August 2020, Tehran-Riyadh talks in Baghdad have not yet led to the return of ambassadors. The Wall Street Journal recently reported Saudi warnings to the US of an imminent Iranian attack, although skeptics have noted this came just after Riyadh’s relations with President Joe Biden were strained by Saudi coordination with Russia over oil production cuts in the run-up to November 8 US Congressional elections.
‘Look who’s here! NASMAMs’
After months of lobbying in Washington, Ukraine said Monday it had received the first delivery of surface-to-air missiles that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has claimed can combat drones supplied to Russia by Iran.
Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said the NASAMS air defense systems would “significantly strengthen” its armed forces. “Look who’s here! NASAMS and Aspide air defense systems arrived in Ukraine!,” Reznikov tweeted. The Aspide is an Italian-made missile with a 40-km range.
A spokesman for the Germany government said Monday it was up to Kyiv to decide whether to open peace talks with Russia. Aside from €2-billion military aid to Ukraine, the German government has allocated $200 billion to cushion domestic and business consumers against energy price rises.
Iran acknowledged Saturday that it supplied drones to Russia, claiming this was before the current phase of the conflict began in February, but Kyiv has made great play of the supply in its lobbying efforts and recently named Iranian airlines it said had delivered drones. The US, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have argued that Iran sending drones to Russia contravenes United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
‘Not evolving in right direction’
Efforts to restore the JCPOA, which the US left in 2018 imposing ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions on Iran, have paused since the summer. Josep Borrell, foreign policy chief of the European Union, which has chaired JCPOA talks, said Monday that “positions between the parties” were “not converging yet,” meaning “things are not evolving in the right direction.”
Bilateral meetings between Iran and the US in the summer, chaired by the EU, and subsequent exchanges of messages, failed to resolve differences. Iran has sought ‘guarantees’ that it would be cushioned economically against the US again leaving the agreement. The atmosphere has also soured with the US and European states imposing additional sanctions on Iran, including against its ‘morality police’ over the death of a 22-year-old woman.