Arab leaders are turning up the heat on Iran by announcing a joint military force as Tehran tries to reach a nuclear agreement with world powers.
Sunni powers led by Saudi Arabia are worried a nuclear deal would embolden Iran and give it the resources to extend what they see as a push for regional supremacy.
Plans for a joint fighting force by the Arab League underlined Middle Eastern Sunni nations’ determination to challenge Iran’s expanding influence in the region.
Last week, Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition and secured support from the United States for a military intervention in Yemen where the Houthi rebels had pushed aside a Saudi-backed government and taken control of large swaths of the country.
Abd-Rabbu Hadi, Yemen’s president who was recently ousted by the Houthis, has been forced to flee the country.
Meanwhile, Saudi jets continued to pound the Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, raising fears of a widening Saudi-Iran proxy war as Arab leaders concluded a summit in Egypt with a plan to form a joint Arab force, the Financial Times reported Monday.
The nuclear talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne between foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany have made progress over the past few days.
But on Sunday evening, they appeared to have reached an impasse on two or three key issues.
Diplomats said they were still working towards a March-end deadline, although with no signs of the deadlock being broken by Sunday night, the negotiations looked set to continue down to the wire.
“Given what is at stake… I am sure it will last until right up until the deadline, unless there is some kind of miracle,” said one senior western diplomat in Lausanne, who is privy to the talks. This could be Tuesday or even Wednesday, they said.
The most serious outstanding issue in the negotiations is Iran’s demand for a revision of the UN-level sanctions imposed on it, which diplomats regard as the cornerstone of the international economic embargo against the Islamic Republic.
The other sticking points concern prohibitions on research into new, more advanced centrifuges designed to enrich uranium more quickly and efficiently than Iran can currently achieve, and a decision on what may happen beyond the first 10 years of any agreement in terms of a further loosening of restrictions on Iran and its nuclear activities.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt told the weekend Arab League summit that there was no option but to join forces to face challenges that threatened the very “identity” of the region, a reference both to Shia Iran and hardline Islamists seeking to impose their version of religion by force.
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