Secretary of State John Kerry has said the United States continues to monitor Tehran's "destabilizing actions" in the Middle East, as world powers and Iran try to reach a deal on the Islamic republic's nuclear program.
Kerry spoke in Riyadh on March 5 after meeting with Saudi Arabia's monarch and foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.
He said Washington was not seeking a "grand bargain" with Tehran that would involve wider political and security cooperation with Iran, and insisted that a nuclear deal with Iran would address security concerns of Persian Gulf countries.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, speaking alongside Kerry, said the secretary of state gave him assurances that Washington would not forget about other Iranian behavior in the region while it pursued a nuclear deal.
Like Israel, the Sunni-ruled Arab states in the region suspect that Shi'ite-led Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons and increase its assertiveness in the Middle East.
Gulf Arab leaders are also concerned about Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, Tehran's backing for Shi'ite rebels who've seized control of Yemen's capital, and the implications of the role Iranian militia fighters are playing in Iraq's ground offensive against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq.
Kerry's visit to Saudi Arabia follows three days of talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Switzerland aimed at persuading Iran to restrain its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
The negotiations are part of an ongoing diplomatic effort by the P5+1 world powers -- the United States, Britain, Russia, China, and France, plus Germany -- to persuade Tehran to restrain its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Iran insists that its nuclear program is only for peaceful civilian purposes such as power generation and medical research.
But the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says Tehran has yet to fully comply with its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by allowing monitors to verify it isn’t secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Before leaving the Swiss resort of Montreux, Kerry said some progress had been made during his latest negotiations with Iran’s foreign minister.
Describing the talks as "tough," he said, "There are still significant gaps and important choices that need to be made."
Zarif told Iran’s state-run Press TV: "We are not far from reaching an agreement. There are gaps that need to be filled, serious gaps. But that does not mean that we are not capable of moving forward."
Kerry’s aides, meanwhile, told reporters in Switzerland that there were many remaining obstacles to reaching a framework political accord between Iran and the P5+1 before a late March deadline.
The negotiating sides also have set a June 30 deadline for reaching a final deal.
Foreign Ministry envoys from all six countries in the P5+1 were scheduled to continue talks in Switzerland with Iranian negotiators on March 5 ahead of the next round of meetings between Kerry and Zarif on March 15.
China, one of the six countries involved in the Iran negotiations, which aim to establish a framework accord by late March, said on March 5 an agreement might be at hand.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP