March 3, 2022
Saudi Arabia plans to continue “detailed talks” with its rival Iran to reach a satisfactory agreement for both, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has said.
He also reiterated Riyadh’s view for a strong nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers at talks in Vienna, concerned about both Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and its regional aggression.
He said in remarks to The Atlantic carried by Saudi state media on Thursday that direct talks with Iran would enable reaching “a good situation and mark a bright future” for the region’s Sunni Muslim and Shi’ite powers, which have been locked in a rivalry playing out in conflicts across the Middle East.
“Iran is a neighbor forever, we cannot get rid of them, and they cannot get rid of us,” the Saudi state news agency cited him as saying.
Saudi Arabia supported former US president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Obama-era nuclear agreement known as JCPOA and favored his tough policy toward Tehran.
In September 2019 after Trump had fully sanctioned Iran’s oil exports, a large missile and drone attack hit Saudi oil installations in what was widely believed to have been an Iranian operation.
Riyadh had to navigate a delicate diplomatic terrain after Joe Biden became president with a clear agenda to restore the JCPOA and give less freedom of action to the kingdom. Biden removed a terror designation from Yemen’s Houthis early in his term.
Ben Salman’s comments come as indirect US-Iran talks in Vienna move closer to reviving a 2015 nuclear pact which curbed Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Riyadh and its Gulf allies had seen the pact as flawed for not addressing their concerns over Iran’s ballistic missiles program and network of proxies, including in Yemen where Saudi Arabia is embroiled in a costly war.
“We do not want to see a weak nuclear deal because the result will be the same in the end,” the prince said.
Riyadh severed diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2016 after Iranian authorities allowed mobs to attack Saudi diplomatic mission, setting fire to its embassy. The two countries launched talks last year hosted by Iraq aimed at containing tensions, but no breakthrough was achieved.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said last month the kingdom was looking to schedule a fifth round of talks despite a “lack of substantive progress” so far and urged Tehran to change its behavior.
Shared concerns over Iran saw Riyadh’s Gulf allies the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain forge ties with Israel in 2020 to create a new regional axis at a time of uncertainty over the commitment of key security ally the United States.
“We do not look at Israel as an enemy but as a potential ally in various interests that we could seek to achieve together. But it should solve its problems with the Palestinians,” Prince Mohammed was cited as saying by the state news agency.
Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s two holiest sites, has conditioned any eventual normalization with Israel on addressing the Palestinians’ quest for statehood on territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.