DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Mar 14, 2018, 2:37 PM ET

Gulf Arabs relish Tillerson firing; Iran weighs nuclear deal


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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's firing is reverberating across a Middle East where Iran fears his replacement will fight to end the 2015 nuclear deal, a hope of Gulf Arab states as Palestinians worry about a further-emboldened nationalist Israeli government.

Also at play is the ongoing diplomatic dispute between Qatar and four Arab nations, a crisis the former oilman sought to reconcile with no success during his brief tenure as America's top diplomat.

How Tillerson's proposed successor, CIA director Mike Pompeo, will handle these challenges remains to be seen. But Pompeo remains a major opponent of the atomic accord, while Tillerson had been pursuing a delicate strategy with European allies and others to try to improve or augment the Obama-era deal.

Already in Iran, some are expressing concerns.

Iran's daily Javan newspaper, believed to be close to the hard-line Revolutionary Guard, said that replacing Tillerson with Pompeo signaled the end of the nuclear deal.

"For quitting the deal, his dumping was necessary," Javan said.

That was echoed by Ali Khorram, a former Iranian envoy to the United Nations, in the pro-reform daily newspaper Arman.

"Pompeo is very interested in waging a war similar to the Iraq war by citing international regulations," Khorram wrote. "European powers will play a role in balancing his desire."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, meanwhile, sought to minimize Tillerson's firing, calling it part of the "frequent and multiple" changes in Trump's administration.

"What matters to the Islamic Republic of Iran are the policies and approaches of the United States in regard to international issues and toward Iran," Ghasemi told journalists. "We closely monitor their approaches and macro policies and will take appropriate stances accordingly in the future."

Tillerson's firing was welcome news for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which view Iran as a regional menace. They have also pushed Washington to take a harder line on Qatar, which they and other Arab nations have boycotted since last year, accusing it of supporting extremist groups and cozying up to Iran. Tillerson had sought to mediate the crisis among the U.S. allies.

In the UAE on Wednesday, the English-language Khaleej Times borrowed from the U.S. president's show-biz days for its headline: "YOU'RE FIRED!" Saudi Arabia's English-language Arab News had the same headline.

Another English-language newspaper, the state-aligned The National newspaper of Abu Dhabi, offered an editorial saying Tillerson's firing would "surprise few," pointing to his disagreement with Trump over Qatar.

The UAE, along with Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, cut off land, sea and air routes to Qatar in June 2017. Qatar, which has backed Islamist opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, has denied supporting extremists. It shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran.

Trump has at times appeared to side with Qatar's rivals in the dispute, while Tillerson had projected a more neutral stance. ExxonMobil, which Tillerson ran before becoming secretary of state, had a long business history in Qatar's natural gas plays.

"While Mr. Tillerson shortsightedly urged Saudi Arabia and allies in the quartet to end their boycott of Qatar, Mr. Trump named Doha 'a funder of terrorism at a very high level,'" The National's editorial page said.

Faisal J. Abbas, the editor-in-chief of the Arab News, similarly said Tillerson's mishandling of the Middle East "turned the region into his political graveyard." Abbas wrote that Tillerson's handling of the Qatar dispute proved he was "'full of gas' more than anything else."

"Is there reason to believe Doha had influence over Tillerson? Was he really biased toward Qatar?" Abbas wrote in a front-page editorial. "Or was he surrounded by so many State Department officials still stuck in the Obama era that they undermined his ability to act? None of this matters now."

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent Emirati professor of political science, called Tillerson "the worst foreign minister in the history of America" on Twitter. He also implied Gulf Arab unhappiness with Tillerson led to his ouster.

"History will remember that a Gulf state had a role in expelling the foreign minister of a superpower and that's just the tip of the iceberg," he wrote.

Kuwait, which has sought to broker an end to the Qatar crisis, offered no immediate comment, though a local newspaper described Tillerson's departure as striking "like an earthquake" in a headline.

For Israel, the Pompeo announcement appears to be good news for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been an outspoken opponent of the Iranian nuclear deal and who sees Iran's involvement in neighboring Lebanon and Syria as a major threat.

Netanyahu has also welcomed the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem — a move for which Tillerson showed little enthusiasm.

"In my meetings with Pompeo I was very impressed by his experience and abilities. I believe that also in his position as Secretary of State we will work very well together," Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday night.

"Israel and its right wing American supporters will rejoice in the unceremonious sacking of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his replacement with CIA Director Mike Pompeo," wrote Chemi Shalev, a columnist for the Haaretz daily. "Tillerson was seen as reserved and distant about Israel, while Pompeo is viewed as a warm supporter. Tillerson sought to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, while Pompeo is aligned with the demand of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu to fix it, or, in greater likelihood, abandon it altogether."


Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, Hussain al-Qatari in Kuwait City and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


The story has been corrected to show the name of the Iranian daily newspaper is Javan.

News - Gulf Arabs relish Tillerson firing; Iran weighs nuclear deal

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  • Sparky Snarkasm

    All we ask of you, fellow Americans, is that you believe the Wahhabi sect had peaceful demonstrations in Syria, and instead of marking the historic occasion of Wahhabis protesting peacefully, Assad just showed up and killed everybody. That's not so hard, is it?

    It's the only time that sect of Islam as EVER protested peacefully. Their usual response to infidels and the blasphemous is to kill them... This one time, they had a peaceful protest....and that, fellow Americans is what we need to believe about why we are in Syria.

    If you're on board with THAT bit of silliness, your country is grateful.that you won't be interupting the flow of Coalition money to our dear Republican and Democrat Party....and now it's on to Iran.

  • virgillionhere

    Great idea, let's turn Iran into North Korea.
    It's so easy to get these countries to give up nukes once they have them

  • Esther Haman

    Like what is Pompiano is going to do! Reverses all “6” Nations signature with a blink of an eye?! Iran has said adamantly they will not renegotiate, EU and UN have backed them up. Even Comrade Trump has signed off on it a few times. If Comrade Trump wants to tear it up, then go for it, Iran will become another Nuclear power in the ME, something worth than North Korea is!! How does BiBi Yahoo likes that out come?!

  • Ira Cohen

    We should look at this situation very cautiously to put it mildly. The gulf states, essentially led by Saudi Arabia are neither democratic, openminded nor in it for the sake of the US. We're taking sides in a HYUGE Islamic split and conflict and I doubt it will be to our benefit, I expect with Pompeo's support Trump will push to cancel the Iran nuke deal and create a rift between the US and the rest of the world. Add this to never rejoining the Paris Accord, and moving against China aggressively, creating a trade war and we have the beginnings of a pseudo Nationalist movement, something that should scare all of us.

  • Sparky Snarkasm

    Hmmmm,,, I oppose the US membership in the Saudi Coalition, and the wars we fight for Saudi interests. War is a serious thing... it should only be used in extreme situations,,,, not the way the Saudi Coalition uses it.

    We make war easily. It's nothing. We go to war at the drop of a hat. We fight alongside Saudi Arabia...arguably the worst country in the world... because they discovered a way to get large sums of money to our Republican and Democrat party.

    If we stop the money, we stop the wars. If we cannot stop the money the wars continue.. The US could be a beacon to the world.... We could be a force for truth, justice and the American Way... if the American way wasn't to accept bribes from evil governments.

  • John Smith

    The diplomatic decisions were made in the White House not the state department. Pompeo will get fired too. It's just a matter of time.

  • ExtraStealth

    If the Arabs hated Tillerson, he should have been kept in office, but Trump is not a thinker. A true you-know-what moron.
    I'm betting Tillerson is thinking "Best Firing Ever". Congrats, Tillerson!
    You have been released from the Insane Clown Administration. I'm betting
    he is planning a secret party.