KUWAIT CITY - Iran said on Sunday it wanted stronger cooperation with US ally Saudi Arabia, as it seeks to ease concerns among Gulf Arab neighbours about a potential resurgence in its influence following a nuclear deal with world powers.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, on a tour of Gulf Arab states, said after talks in Kuwait that no date had been set for an expected visit to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival.

But he suggested the nuclear deal reached in Geneva on November 24 should not be seen as a threat. “This agreement cannot be at the expense of any country in the region,” Zarif, speaking through an interpreter, told reporters at a news conference after discussions with his Kuwaiti counterpart, Sheikh Sabah al-Hamad al-Sabah.

Asked about reports he also planned to visit Riyadh, Zarif said no date had yet been set for such a visit. “We look at Saudi Arabia as an important and influential regional country and we are working to strengthen cooperation with it for the benefit of the region,” Zarif said. He did not elaborate on how this might be done.

US-allied Gulf Arab states cautiously welcomed the nuclear accord reached last month, but some officials have demanded assurances that the deal would contribute to their security.

The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are wary of Iranian influence in the Middle East, fearing the country is seeking regional dominance and stirring sectarian tensions.

They worry Iran’s nuclear programme is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran has constantly denied.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed called for a partnership with Iran last week when he became the first Gulf Arab official to visit Tehran since the agreement was signed.

Improving relations with regional countries is a central plank of Iran’s diplomatic policy under its new president, Hassan Rouhani, and Zarif was due to travel to Oman, another member of the GCC, after Kuwait. Asked about three disputed Gulf islands held by Iran but claimed by the United Arab Emirates, Zarif said Tehran was ready to talk about one of the islands, Abu Musa. Rouhani and Zarif have stressed greater regional stability as a priority, arguably an attempt to blunt the opposition of Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, to Tehran’s newly minted nuclear deal with world powers.

Javad Zarif assured Gulf Arab states his country’s nuclear deal with the West is in their interest and also announced plans to visit Saudi Arabia.

“The solution to this issue serves the interests of all countries in the region. It is not at the expense of any state in the region,” Zarif said.

“Be assured that the nuclear deal is in favour of the stability and security of the region,” Zarif said on what was his first official visit to a Gulf Arab nation.

Zarif said the “political option” is the only solution to the Syrian conflict and warned that the civil war could cause the spread of extremism and sectarianism in the region. “We believe that Syria’s future should be determined by the Syrian people only through ballot boxes,” he said.

“There is no solution to the Syrian crisis except by a political settlement. The military solution is an illusion.” Iran will attend the Geneva 2 peace conference on Syria “if invited” but will not accept preconditions, Zarif added.

Meanwhile, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi has said Tehran will never abandon the Arak heavy water reactor, considering it a “red line” in talks with world powers, media reported Sunday.

“Your actions and words show you don’t want us to have the Arak heavy water reactor which means you want to deprive us of our rights,” Salehi was quoted as saying by the website of state broadcaster IRIB. “But you should know that it is a red line which we will never cross, likewise enrichment” of uranium. Arak is of concern because, in theory, it could provide the Islamic republic with plutonium — an alternative to highly enriched uranium used for a nuclear bomb.

Under a landmark deal reached in Geneva with world powers, Iran has agreed that for six months it will not commission the reactor or transfer fuel or heavy water to the site in exchange for minor relief from UN and Western sanctions that have hit its economy hard.

In another development, Iran and Russia are in talks to build another nuclear plant at Bushehr, with construction set to begin in 2014, media Sunday reported nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi as saying.

“With the progress made in the Geneva talks, next year we will see the start of construction on another nuclear power plant in Bushehr,” said Salehi of the landmark deal clinched with world powers on Tehran’s disputed nuclear drive.

He did not elaborate on the new plant’s power capacity, but Iran has planned to build 1,000-megawatt plants.

“We are negotiating with the Russians to produce 4,000 megawatts of electricity, and they have expressed their readiness to build,” added Salehi, according to the website of state broadcaster IRIB.

He said that in the next phase, Iran sought to produce 5,000 megawatts in electricity output from nuclear power. Iran’s sole Bushehr nuclear power plant, which produces 1,000 megawatts, came into service in 2011 after several delays blamed on technical problems.

In September this year, Iranian engineers took complete control of the Bushehr facility.Iran has said it aims to produce 20,000 megawatts of electricity from nuclear power, which would necessitate building 20 such reactors.

Western powers and Israel suspect that the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme masks a covert weapons drive, a charge Tehran denies, saying it is entirely for peaceful purposes.

Under the interim Geneva agreement, Iran agreed to roll back some parts of its nuclear programme in exchange for partial easing of punitive sanctions choking its economy.