President-elect Joe Biden has signalled he will return the United States to a nuclear accord with Iran and that he still backed the 2015 deal negotiated under Barack Obama, from which Donald Trump withdrew.
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Biden has indicated he will bring Iran’s US-allied Arab neighbours, such as Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as its arch-rival, into the process.
“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.
“The only way towards reaching an agreement that is sustainable is through such consultation,” he said on the sidelines of a security conference in Bahrain’s Manama.
“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.
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 recent strike on Aramco’s facilities in the country’s east.
That strike was claimed by the Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is fighting a grinding five-year conflict to back the internationally recognised government.
Prince Faisal said the JCPOA was too short in its 10 to 15 year timeframe, and apart from the issue of its missile programme and support for proxy groups around the region, 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 turn the kingdom into a “pariah” 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.
The minister also indicated the kingdom would maintain relations with Trump — after four years of close 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.”
The Saudi foreign minister also told AFP a resolution of the Gulf diplomatic crisis is in sight, with all nations involved “on board” and final agreement expected soon.
The row pits Qatar against Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. The Arab quartet has accused Doha of supporting Islamic extremists and being too close to Iran. Qatar has denied the accusations.
“We are in full coordination with our partners in this process and the prospects that we see are very positive towards a final agreement,” he said, adding that “the eventual resolution will involve all parties concerned”.
“What we envision is a resolution that covers all aspects and is satisfactory to all parties involved,” he added.
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