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A New Era for US-Saudi Cooperation at the United Nations

Ambassador Al-Mouallimi speaks to the UN press corps. (Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Countering Iranian Sponsored Terrorism

by Tarek Ali

The United Nations has been witnessing a critical US-Saudi cooperation on the fight against terrorism and extremism since US President Donald H. Trump entered the White House. There is also a marked shift from the years of former President Barack Obama, indicated by the placement of Iran at the heart of their objective by calling for the restriction of its role in supporting terrorism, not only in Syria and Yemen, but also throughout the region and beyond.

The two countries’ joint approach to confronting Iran’s policy and its “support for terrorist organizations”, which undermine stability and security in the region, soon became evident in the first diplomatic move by US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in the Security Council Chamber. Haley called the council to an emergency session on January 30 to discuss Iran’s violations of Security Council resolutions, just 10 days after Trump entered the White House. While the meeting was specifically devoted to the discussion of Iran’s violation of Security Council resolutions in its launch of a ballistic missile, Haley has made sure to address Iran’s support for terrorism in all her statements and positions, which often take the form of a warning or a threat.

Although Iran’s involvement in supporting terrorist activities is not on the agenda at the Security Council under a separate clause, the arms embargo imposed on Iran under Security Council resolutions is directly linked to international pressure on Tehran. The Security Council monitored Iranian arms shipments heading across the sea to the Houthis in Yemen which were then seized, and imposed a travel ban on the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Qasim Soleimani, who violated to the ban and was seen in Iraq and Syria in multiple photos and videos.


Since President Trump took office, public criticism of Iran by Western diplomats from the permanent members of the Security Council has been on the rise. They have expressed “disappointment, frustration and resentment” towards Iran’s approach in the region, which is embodied in its support for the activities of the Lebanese Hezbollah and similar organizations. This comes after the international community relied on Iran for years to implement the provisions of the nuclear agreement with six major powers by playing a “constructive” regional role, as stated by an ambassador to the United Nations.
The ambassador, speaking at a session in New York, said that Iran’s regional policy ensuing the nuclear agreement “should have reflected the confidence of the international community in its contribution to the dynamics of stability in the region.. but what we see from Iran is merely a destructive role that undermines regional stability and security.. Iran must retreat from this role if it wants to be an active partner in the international community.”

This Western stance, which is a direct result of the end of the Obama administration which long ignored Iranian transgressions, now clearly aligns with what Saudi Arabia has advocated for years through the various United Nations platforms; particularly through the Security Council. The Saudi ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah al-Maalami, has always stressed the need for a response from the international community to Iran’s disregard for international resolutions, the United Nations and diplomatic norms. This is what al-Maalami has emphasized in various statements in the Security Council, pointing out that Iran has disappointed the hopes of the international community and neighbouring countries alike after the signing of the nuclear agreement, through continuing to “support sectarian militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and seeking to find duplicates of terrorists (Hezbollah) everywhere, as well as interfering in the internal affairs of my country and the Kingdom of Bahrain.”
Al-Maalami has also demanded that Iran “stop this irresponsible behaviour”, and “return to the international community, respect its laws and customs, and pursue its people’s aspirations for development and prosperity instead of seeking to destabilize security and stability and support terrorism everywhere.”

Diplomats in New York expect that countering terrorism and Iran’s support for it will be a key issue at the Saudi-US summit in Riyadh, which will translate to coordination between the two countries in the United Nations. The signs of this coordination emerged after Ambassador Haley announced late last month that she had “discussed with her Saudi counterpart at the United Nations Abdullah al-Maalami the joint commitment” of the United States and Saudi Arabia “to stop Iran’s interference in the region, including Syria.”


Haley has repetitively given Iran warnings that the United States will “act” to stop its interventions and support for terrorism in the region, as she considers that this issue should be the top priority for the Security Council in the Middle East, stressing the need to “remove Iran and its proxies from Syria”.

Haley also described Iran as “the main state supporting terrorism,” stressing that the United States wants to “address” this issue. She added in a subsequent statement that the US National Security Council is discussing the Iranian issue, and “how to deal with Iran in different ways in different places, but the goal is to remove the impact of Iran because its role is harmful, especially in Syria.” She explained that the United States is discussing these options with countries “who share our position.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley (C) listen to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the end of the security council meeting. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)


Institutionalizing the fight against terrorism at the international level is a purely Saudi achievement. The Kingdom initiated international action that led to the establishment of an unprecedented body at the United Nations – the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre. The centre has received Saudi funding exceeding $ 100 million so far. The project is still growing and awaits major developments within weeks through the implementation of UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez’s vision of upgrading the Centre to be overseen by an Under-Secretary-General that is to be appointed soon.
The United Nations’ Counter-Terrorism Advisory Board is chaired by the permanent representative of the Kingdom to the United Nations, Ambassador Abdullah Al-Maalami. The council comprises of 21 state representatives in addition to a representative of the European Union. Its members include the United States, the other permanent members of the Security Council, Germany, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Brazil and others.

The centre was established in 2006, one year after Saudi Arabia hosted the first international conference to combat terrorism in Riyadh in which the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud called on the international community to establish an international centre for combating terrorism. The directions of the late king materialised through a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2006 to establish the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre based on a financial contribution of $ 10 million provided by Saudi Arabia to the United Nations.

In another generous contribution, the Kingdom provided the Centre with an additional $ 100 million in 2014, prompting new donors to contribute to its funding, including the United States, Britain, Norway and Germany.

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