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    In this Sept. 17, 2015 file photo, Saudi security forces take part in a military parade in preparation for the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

    Arab NATO Still On, Talks With US on Defence Pact Continuing – Riyadh

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    The fate of the proposed alliance was put into question in recent months after the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October.

    Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has confirmed that Gulf states remain in talks with Washington on the creation of a regional security alliance directed against Iran.

    "Talks are continuing between the United States and the Gulf states around this question and ideas are being drawn up," the senior diplomat said, speaking at a press conference following a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Riyadh on Sunday, AFP has reported.

    "The aim is to achieve security arrangements in the Middle East that can protect the region from external aggression…and strengthen relations between the United States and the countries of the region," al-Jubeir added.

    The security pact is "a work in progress and the two parties want to see it happen," the foreign minister stressed, noting that the proposed alliance, called the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) would also include Egypt.

    US President Donald Trump revived the Obama-era concept of an anti-Iranian alliance of Gulf state nations in 2017 in an effort to stop what Washington and its allies have alleged are Iran's "malign activities" in the region. Last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Qatar's deputy prime minister in Washington to try to iron out differences between Doha and Riyadh to move forward with the alliance idea. Two months before that, Pompeo hosted the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates in New York to move forward with the project, with a press release on that meeting saying the participants engaged in "productive discussions."

    The traditional strategic alliance between Washington and Riyadh took a hit in recent months following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor who had expressed criticism of the Saudi monarchy. Riyadh firmly denied all allegations that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in Khashoggi's killing, and launched an internal investigation to bring those responsible for what it said was a "rogue operation" to justice. However, last Wednesday, a group of US senators including Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republicans Lindsey Graham and Macro Rubio introduced a resolution to hold the crown prince personally complicit in Khashoggi's killing. The senators drafted the resolution after a closed-door briefing on the case by CIA director Gina Haspel. 

    President Trump has signalled that he would not take action against the Saudi government over the Khashoggi scandal. On November 28, Secretary Pompeo reiterated that Washington has not seen any evidence to connect Saudi officials including the crown prince to the journalist's murder. Last week, the Pentagon said US-Saudi military-to-military ties remain unaffected. The Trump administration has also been keen to salvage its $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, with Riyadh agreeing to purchase a batch of THAAD missile defence systems late last month.

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    Tags:
    negotiations, talks, Middle East Strategic Alliance, 'Arab NATO', Adel al-Jubeir, Middle East, Persian Gulf, Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, United States
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