‘Friends of Syria' to financially support rebels

The United States sent mixed signals on Iran on Sunday by announcing its intention to strengthen the defences of its Gulf allies along with the commencement of nuclear talks that could ease tensions with Tehran.

With a possible military conflict with Iran in the background, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it plain that Washington wanted to strengthen, in an integrated manner, the military capabilities of its allies belonging to the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC, which is central to global energy security, comprise the oil-rich states of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.

In the first address to the Gulf-U.S. security forum in Riyadh, Ms. Clinton advocated that the GCC countries should take “practical and specific steps to strengthen mutual security, such as helping militaries improve interoperability, cooperate on maritime security and missile defence, and coordinate responses to crises”. U.S. officials clarified that Washington wanted to help the GCC build a regional missile defence architecture to ward off a ballistic missile threat from Iran.

Analysts point out that the proposal to combine GCC defences against ballistic missiles is part of a larger U.S.-backed global anti-ballistic missile framework that also covers all of Asia, including West Asia.

In Riyadh, Ms. Clinton announced that the next meeting of Iran and the six global powers — U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany — will commence on April 13 in Istanbul. Istanbul was also the last venue of talks in January 2011 which failed to make much headway. Ms. Clinton did not sound upbeat about the prospects of the upcoming talks. “We enter into these talks with a sober perspective about Iran's intentions. It is incumbent upon Iran to demonstrate by its actions that it is a willing partner and to participate in these negotiations with an effort to obtain concrete results,” said Ms. Clinton in Riyadh.

However, in an article in the Boston Globe Hossein Mousavian, Iran's former chief negotiator on the nuclear issue, suggested a way out of the deadlock. He said a breakthrough could be achieved if the West decided to offer a package that included recognition of Iran's nuclear rights, ending sanctions, and “normalisation of Iran's nuclear file”, a phraseology that suggested that the U.N. Security Council should return Tehran's nuclear dossier to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

From Riyadh, Ms. Clinton headed for Istanbul, to participate in the second “friends of Syria” conference, which, on Sunday, decided to provide anti-regime rebels and army defectors financial support, sourced mainly from the wealthy Gulf countries. The meeting, in which 70 countries were represented, recognised the Syrian National Council (SNC) as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The United Nations and Arab League envoy on Syria, Kofi Annan as well as Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief did not attend the meeting. Russia and China, which have vetoed two Security Council resolutions on Syria marshalled by the West, boycotted Sunday's conference.

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