After Iran Nuclear Deal, U.S. Defense Secretary Reassures Mideast Allies
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Some of the U.S.'s closest allies are producing some of the most hostile reactions to the nuclear deal with Iran. As part of the Obama administration's efforts to reassure in particular Saudi Arabia and Israel, Defense Secretary Ash Carter is in the Middle East this week. He's the first cabinet secretary to visit the region since the deal was signed. And NPR's David Welna is traveling with them. He joins us now from the capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh. Good morning.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And now, Ash Carter is meeting this morning with the Saudi king. We know that the Saudis are very unhappy about this deal. What is there for him to talk with them about?
WELNA: Well, I think that Secretary Carter has come to Saudi Arabia mostly in hopes of improving the cooperation that Saudi Arabia has already been giving in confronting the self-styled Islamic State. That is the top priority for the United States in the region. But Saudi Arabia, I think, really has a beef with United States over this Iran nuclear deal. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni nation, has been the dominant power in this region for a long time. And it sees this deal as possibly empowering Iran, a Shiite nation and a huge rival of Saudi Arabia, as being strengthened by this deal. And they feel threatened by it. And I think that Secretary Carter is here today to tell the king himself that - don't worry; this is actually going to work out well. I think there's a lot of skepticism in this region about whether that's true.
MONTAGNE: Well, before Riyadh, Secretary Carter was in Jordan. And he visited the air base there close to the border with Syria, where the U.S. and other countries - that air base, they're using it to conduct airstrikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. So why was he there - same idea, obviously, but specifically Jordan?
WELNA: Right, well, this air base in Jordan is the one that a Jordanian pilot flew out of before he was captured by Islamic State fighters. And he was executed. And this caused a tremendous outrage in Jordan and actually galvanized a lot of support for the fight against Islamic State. And Secretary Carter was here to express his condolences and also the outrage of the United States about this incident. But he was also there to tell the pilots - and there are many American pilots there as well as pilots from five other nations, including Jordan - that they've been doing a great job flying sorties over both - over Syria and the U.S. flying sorties over Iraq. But he also had a warning for them.
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ASH CARTER: We have tremendous air power. And we do not have the ground power that we need in all places where ISIL is operating. We're developing that. But where we have it, we see the tremendous combination between air power and capable local ground forces.
MONTAGNE: Just briefly, Ash Carter's first stop was in Israel, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He's called the Iran deal a historic mistake. What about that? It must not have been easy.
WELNA: It was not easy. And they clearly talked about this. And Netanyahu clearly expressed his ideas about this. But I think that Carter came to Israel already expecting to hear that. I don't think he changed any minds. I don't think he made any promises to Israel of further assistance either. And I think that Netanyahu continues to really oppose this deal. Secretary of State John Kerry will be here next week. And I'm sure he's going to hear the same.
MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much. That's NPR's David Welna speaking to us from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.