The Gulf states must be consulted before the United States revives a nuclear agreement with Iran, says Saudi Arabia, warning that this would be the only path towards a sustainable agreement.
President-elect Joe Biden has signalled a willingness to return the US to a landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Iran if Iran showed compliance with the terms of the agreement. The nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was negotiated during the presidency of Barack Obama and Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018.
Analysts say a return to the JCPOA would delight US allies in Europe but concern the Gulf states, who have criticised US engagement with Tehran.
“Primarily what we expect is that we are fully consulted, that we and our other regional friends are fully consulted in what goes on vis-a-vis the negotiations with Iran,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told AFP news agency on the sidelines of a security conference in Bahrain’s Manama on Saturday.
Biden has indicated he will bring Iran’s US-allied Arab neighbours, such as Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as its archrival, into the process.
“The only way towards reaching an agreement that is sustainable is through such consultation,” the Saudi foreign minister said.
“I think we’ve seen, as a result of the after-effects of the JCPOA, that not involving the regional countries results in a build-up of mistrust and neglect of the issues of real concern and of real effect on regional security.”
Asked whether the Biden administration was already in touch about the shape of a revived Iran deal, Prince Faisal said there were no contacts as yet, but that “we are ready to engage with the Biden administration once they take office”.
“We are confident that both an incoming Biden administration, but also our other partners, including the Europeans, have fully signed on to the need to have all the regional parties involved in a resolution,” he said.
‘JCPOA plus plus’
Germany said in recent days that a new, broader Iran nuclear accord must be reached to also rein in Tehran’s ballistic missile programme, warning that the 2015 deal was no longer enough.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, talked of a “nuclear agreement plus”, in language also deployed by the Saudi minister.
“I don’t know about a revived JCPOA, although one may look to a JCPOA plus plus, something well beyond the JCPOA,” Prince Faisal said.
“Because reviving the JCPOA as it exists now will only bring us to the point where we were, which is a deficient agreement that doesn’t address the full issues related to Iran’s nuclear activities and other original activities.”
Saudi Arabia has been targeted with dozens of ballistic missile and drone attacks since the start of last year, including a devastating attack on Aramco’s facilities in the country’s east, which temporarily knocked out half the kingdom’s crude output.
A member of staff stands next to the damage at a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station that Yemeni Houthis say they attacked, in the city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia [File: Marwa Rashad/Reuters]That attack was claimed by the Tehran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is fighting a grinding five-year conflict to back the internationally recognised government. But the US said the attack involved cruise missiles from Iran.
Prince Faisal said that aside from the JCPOA being too limited with its 10-15 year timeframe, it also failed to address the issue of Iran’s missile programme and support for proxy groups around the region and did not do enough to address the risk of proliferation.
“As we’ve seen by the Iranian ability now to quickly increase its capacity to increase its enriched uranium stockpiles, such a short timeframe was not enough to contain Iran’s nuclear capabilities,” he said.
As Saudi Arabia looks ahead to building a relationship with the incoming US administration, Prince Faisal said he was confident Biden’s pledge to reassess relations with the kingdom over its human rights failings was just election talk.
“I think electioneering brings out all kinds of comments, and I’ll leave them at that,” he said.
Biden had said on the campaign trail that, under him, the US would end support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and would not make arms sales to the kingdom that contradicted “American values”.
The minister also indicated the kingdom would maintain relations with Trump – after four years of extremely warm ties, notably between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
“The kingdom always remembers its friends,” he said. “And of course we will continue to have, I’m sure, friendly contacts with President Trump.”