Saudi Arabia should be a ‘partner’ on any future nuclear deal with Iran, foreign minister says

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Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan al-Saud addresses the media on February 21, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.

Thomas Trutschel | Photothek | Getty Images

Saudi Arabia says it should be part of any potential negotiations between the new US administration and Iran on a new nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud told CNBC.

Saudi Arabia seeks to partner with the US administration on a potential new deal, which would not only limit Iran’s nuclear activities, but also seek to remedy its “regional pernicious activity,” Al-Saud said to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Saturday.

Such an agreement could be called “JCPOA ++”, he added. The JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers that limited the country’s nuclear ambitions in return for the lifting of sanctions. The original agreement was signed by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus Germany.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA in 2018, calling it “the worst deal in history”. Since then, his administration has imposed crushing sanctions on Iran, dubbed a “maximum pressure campaign”.

These sanctions have caused the Iranian rial to depreciate by one-fifth of its former value against the dollar, and the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has declined by about 6% for three consecutive years.

Other signatories to the 2015 deal backed the deal, but it is said that a renegotiated pact could be considered, with more pressure on Iran over missile programs and other regional issues. A new agreement was presented as a “JCPOA +” – that is, like the original agreement but with more conditions.

Such a deal could go even further, Al-Saud believes, saying that a “JCPOA ++” deal could also aim to remedy Iran’s reported arming of militias, whether they are the Houthis in the country. Yemen, or some groups in Iraq or Syria, or Lebanon. , and even beyond. “

“And, of course, his ballistic missile programs and other weapons programs, which he (she) continues to use to wreak havoc in the region,” Al-Saud added.

CNBC has reached out to Iranian officials for a response to Al Saud’s comments and has yet to receive a response.

The Saudi foreign minister highlighted his country’s long-standing partnership with the United States and that he would work with any administration. Al-Saud reiterated, however, that if the new president wishes to re-engage with Iran, Saudi Arabia should be a “partner in these talks”.

“The problem with Iran is the fact that it continues to believe in the imposition of its will in the region to export its revolution to its neighbors and beyond, and we must remedy this,” he said. he claimed, speaking to CNBC from NEOM, a megaproject and new city planned on the northwest Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is virtually welcoming world leaders to the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Riyadh this weekend.

Regional rivalries

Neighboring Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a decades-long struggle for regional domination. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni majority country, while Iran is home to a Shia Muslim majority.

Trump looked at Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during his tenure, while his predecessor, Barack Obama, sought to normalize relations with Iran and create the nuclear deal. Trump’s exit from the JCPOA was applauded by US allies in the Gulf and was widely seen as a change in US policy in the region.

The attitude of the United States towards Iran, however, could change with a new administration. President-elect Joe Biden hopes to re-engage with Iran once in the White House, and returning the nuclear deal is a top priority for his new administration. The Trump administration is on the verge of further sanctioning Iran when its presidency ends, which could make Biden’s rapprochement with Iran more difficult.

Meanwhile, the new administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia could be more difficult to predict.

Biden criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and said he would reassess relations with the kingdom, having threatened in 2019 to stop arms sales to the nation and manufacture them, this that he described, “The outcast they are”.

In October, marking the second anniversary of the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, Biden went further by detailing how US-Saudi relations could develop. He noted in a statement that “under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom, end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and ensure America does not check its values ​​at the door to sell weapons or buy oil “.

“America’s commitment to democratic values ​​and human rights will be a priority, even with our closest security partners,” he added.

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