Saudi FM: Biden must consult Gulf states on rejoining Iran nuclear deal

Faisal bin Farhan says talks are only path to a sustainable agreement; reiterates Saudis ‘completely open’ to normalizing with Israel once Palestinian state established

Then-US vice president Joe Biden, right, offers his condolences to Prince Salman bin Abdel-Aziz upon the death of on his brother Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, at Prince Sultan palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 27, 2011 . (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

By AGENCIES and TOI STAFF5 December 2020, 5:55 pm  0Then-US vice president Joe Biden, right, offers his condolences to Prince Salman bin Abdel-Aziz upon the death of on his brother Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, at Prince Sultan palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 27, 2011 . (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

The Gulf states must be consulted if a US nuclear accord with Iran is revived, Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat said Saturday, warning it is the only path towards a sustainable agreement.

US President-elect Joe Biden has signaled he will return the United States to a nuclear accord with Iran and that he still backs the 2015 deal negotiated under Barack Obama, from which Donald Trump withdrew.

A return to the agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), would delight US allies in Europe, but concern the Gulf states, who have criticized US engagement with Tehran.

Biden has indicated he will bring Iran’s US-allied Arab neighbors, 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.Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud addresses the Manama Dialogue security conference in the Bahraini capital, on December 5, 2020. (Mazen Mahdi/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.

The US imposed crippling sanctions on Iran after Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018. In response, Iran began publicly exceeding limits set by the agreement while saying it would quickly return to compliance if the United States did the same.

Biden told The New York Times this week that if Iran returned to compliance, the US would rejoin, after which he would seek to tighten Iran’s nuclear constraints and address concerns about both its missile program and Iran’s support for militants in the region.

According to the Times report, Biden and his team are working on the premise that if the deal is restored on both sides there will need to be new negotiations on the length of time for restrictions on the production of the fissile material necessary for producing a bomb, originally set at 15 years under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

Additionally, Biden said, steps would need to be taken to address Tehran’s terror activities through regional proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a news conference with Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in Caracas, Venezuela, November 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

The report said that the future Biden administration would want the talks with Tehran to include not only the original parties to the deal — Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union — but also key regional players Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Thursday his country won’t agree to renegotiate elements of the international accord limiting its nuclear program.

He also said Iran won’t agree to any curbs on its missile program or backing of regional proxies unless Western countries stop their “malign behavior” in the Middle East.

No normalization without Palestinian state

In his remarks, Bin Farhan reiterated that Saudi Arabia won’t normalize relations with Israel until a Palestinian state is established.

“We have as we have always been… completely open to full normalize relations with Israel. We think Israel will take its place in the region, but in order for that to happen and for that to be sustainable, we do need the Palestinians to get their state and we do need to settle that situation,” he said.

He said it was “critically important” to encourage the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The comments came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly held a secret rendezvous last month with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi Red Sea city of Neom, alongside US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

It was the first known visit to Saudi Arabia by an Israeli leader, but the talks on Iran and possible normalization reportedly yielded no substantial progress.

The Trump administration had hoped Saudi Arabia would join the UAE and Bahrain in recognizing Israel and forging diplomatic ties, a move seen as increasingly distant in the wake of Joe Biden’s election as US president. But Saudi leaders have hitherto indicated that Israeli-Palestinian peace will have to come first.

It is believed that the two countries have long held clandestine ties, particularly on the issue of Iran.

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