Saudi FM Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with the US Special Envoy for Iran Affairs Robert Malley, Sept 24, 2021. (SPA)

October 21, 2021

US special envoy for Iran Rob Malley met the Saudi foreign minister to assess the talks between Iran and world powers aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.

Rob Malley had earlier been to Qatar in a tour conferring with Arab Gulf states. The Saudi news agency SPA reported the envoy met with Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, Saudi foreign minister, in Riyadh on Wednesday to discuss both the nuclear talks and “joint action to stop Iranian support for terrorist militias.”

In an interview October 13 Malley reiterated that the US wanted to revive the 2015 deal − the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action − in its original form rather than attach new conditions over regional defense and security.

Saudi Arabia, which opposed the JCPOA and backed former president Donald Trump in leaving the deal in 2018, wants the US to introduce new issues, including Iran’s missile program and links with regional allies. Saudi Arabia and Iran have backed opposing sides in Syria and Yemen, and Riyadh has never reconciled itself to Iran’s increased influence in Iraq since the US-led 2003 invasion topped Saddam Hussein.

Saudi Arabia has tempered its approach since US president Joe Biden took office in January committed to restoring the JCPOA and has held a series of exploratory talks with Iran in Baghdad designed to explore easing tensions.

But with JCPOA talks in Vienna suspended since June, first for Iran’s presidential election and then the transition, and with the difficulties the talks had faced in reaching agreement, Saudi Arabia and the US may be mulling alternatives should the talks fail.

Malley has said Washington is ready to consider “all options,” while Prince Faisal last week warned of a “dangerous” acceleration in Iran’s nuclear program.

The Vienna talks struggled to agree which US sanctions − including the ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions levied by Trump in 2018 − violate the JCPOA and exactly how Iran should bring back within JCPOA limits its nuclear program, which it has expanded quantitatively and qualitatively since 2019.

Analysts’ chatter around the talks has suggested that the US might look to include Iran’s regional role in talks, or at least seek Tehran’s commitment to ‘follow-on’ talks. There have also been reports that Tehran wants concrete guarantees that the US would not again walk away from an agreement it first signed and then voted for in the United Nations Security Council.

Iran International

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.