US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran and Iraq Jennifer Gavito, in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, confirmed that Washington is committed to reinforcing Saudi defenses.
Gavito admitted US concerns towards Iranian influence in Iraq undermining the stability and security of national institutions in the country.
She pointed out that US diplomacy seeks to dissuade Tehran from financing and arming groups outside the control of governments throughout the region. Gavito stressed that illegal flow of weapons from Iran to Yemen has led to an increase in the Houthis’ brutal attacks and the suffering of civilians.
Here is the full text of the interview:
What worries the US administration the most about the development of events in Iraq, and what impact does this have on the security and stability of the country?
· ISIS remnants and armed groups operating outside of government control are the biggest obstacles to Iraq’s security and stability. Another area of concern is the economic challenges Iraq faces. We look forward to assisting Iraq to diversify its economy and encourage foreign private sector investment in the country.
· Once government formation is complete, we look forward to working with a new government that reflects the will of Iraqi voters and that strives to improve services for all citizens and combat corruption in the interest of the Iraqi people.
· I believe that if we help Iraq strengthen its own sovereignty and institutions over time, improve the capabilities of Iraq’s security forces, and continue to encourage Iraq’s reintegration into the Arab neighborhood, then Iraq will be stable and prosperous. Moreover, it will be a stabilizing force for the entire region.
Some observers believe that the US presence in Iraq has not achieved what the people aspire to. What is your comment?
· We have been and will be a steady, reliable partner that supports Iraq’s sovereignty and security, anti-corruption and economic reform efforts, helps it improve regional relationships, provides humanitarian and demining assistance, supports respect for the human rights of all Iraqis, backs efforts to combat criminal activity and control unlawful armed groups, and advises and assists the Iraqi security forces.
· We are committed to these efforts because our aspiration is to see a stable, prosperous, democratic, and unified Iraq. I believe that the Iraqi people have the same hope and aspirations.
To what extent do the elements of corruption and sectarianism contribute to the complexity of the situation in Iraq?
· Corruption is a threat to all nations as it undermines the rule of law and tears at the fabric of trust and respect between people and their government.
We share interests with our Iraqi partners in maintaining respect for freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly, enforcing the rule of law, respecting the rights of protesters, journalists, women, members of Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities, and members of other marginalized groups, and pursuing judicial accountability for violent crimes committed against persons belonging to those groups.
To what extent does Iran have a role in the complexities of the political and security situation in Iraq?
· While we encourage Iraq to maintain friendly, productive relations with all its neighbors, we remain concerned about Iranian influence that undermines the stability and the integrity of Iraqi national institutions. Our diplomatic approach seeks to dissuade Iran from funding and arming groups outside the control of governments around the region, including Iraq.
How do you view the risks of Iranian activity on the security and stability of the region?
· The United States is concerned about Iranian influence that undermines the stability and the integrity of Iraq’s sovereignty and national institutions, and so are the Iraqi people.
· President Biden has made it very clear that the United States wants to resolve our differences with Iran through diplomatic means.
· We firmly believe that a stable, sovereign, economically prosperous Iraq is key to broadening our mutually beneficial partnership with the Iraqi people and to bringing greater stability to the region.
· This Administration is committed to working toward regional de-escalation and wider economic and political integration in the region, including across historical lines of conflict.
· If regional actors and Iraq’s neighbors follow the same strategy with the same goal in mind, our chances of success will be far greater.
What is your assessment of the Iranian support for the Houthis in Yemen and its implications for the safety and security of the region?
· The United States has consistently seen evidence of the smuggling of arms from Iran to the Houthis. This represents a flagrant violation of the UN targeted arms though. It is yet another example of how malignant Iranian activity is prolonging the war in Yemen.
· Iran’s support for armed groups throughout the region threatens international and regional security, our forces, our diplomatic personnel and citizens in the region, as well as our partners in the region and elsewhere.
· The Biden Administration is committed to countering this threat from Iran. The US seized dozens of anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of assault rifles, and hundreds of machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers from similar vessels in December, May, and February of last year.
· The illegal flow of weapons from Iran to Yemen is enabling the brutal Houthi offensives in Yemen, increasing the suffering of civilians. Further fighting – whether in Marib or elsewhere – is only bringing more suffering.
What is your assessment of the Saudi-US cooperation in the security and strategic fields? How important is this to international peace and security?
· Saudi Arabia faces significant threats to its territory; we are committed to working together to help the Saudis strengthen their defenses to defend their territory, its citizens, and the thousands of US citizens residing in Saudi Arabia.
· Cross-border attacks launched by the Houthis on the UAE, as well as Saudi Arabia, have killed civilians – including the January 17 attack on the Abu Dhabi airport that resulted in civilian casualties.
· There were more than 400 cross-border attacks last year launched by the Houthis with Iranian support, which affected Saudi infrastructure, schools, mosques, and workplaces, and the endangered civilian population, including 70,000 US citizens living in Saudi Arabia.
· With US support Saudi Arabia has been able to intercept 90 percent of the attacks, but we need to aim for 100 percent.
· The United States is committed to advancing Saudi defenses through security cooperation, arms transfers, and defense trade, exercises, training, and exchanges, alongside engagement on human rights and harm civilian mitigation. We have a number of tools available to assist Saudi Arabia to strengthen its air defense capabilities and will continue to discuss a range of security needs with our partners.