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Saudi Arabia says it must be a ‘partner’ in any future Iran deal

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan al-Saud speaks to the media on February 21, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.

Thomas Trutschel | Phototek | Getty Images

Saudi Arabia says it should be part of any negotiations between the incoming US government and Iran over a new nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud told CNBC.

Saudi Arabia is seeking to work with the US government on a potential new deal that will not only curb Iran̵

7;s nuclear activities but also seek to tackle its “regional malicious activity,” Al-Saud told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Saturday.

Such an agreement could be labeled as “JCPOA ++,” he added. The JCPOA, or the Comprehensive Comprehensive Action Plan, is a 2015 agreement between Iran and the world powers that limited the country’s nuclear ambitions in return for lifting sanctions. The original agreement was signed by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States plus Germany.

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the JCPOA in 2018, calling it “the worst deal in history.” Since then, his administration has imposed crushing sanctions on Iran, called the “maximum pressure campaign.”

These sanctions have weakened Iran’s rial by a fifth of its former value against the dollar, and the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen by about 6% in three consecutive years.

Other signatories to the 2015 agreement have stuck to the agreement, but there is talk that a renegotiated pact may be short-lived, with more pressure on Iran over missile programs and other regional issues. A new agreement has been proclaimed as a “JCPOA +” – that is, as the original agreement, but with several conditions attached.

Such an agreement could go even further, Al-Saud believes, and that a “JCPOA ++” agreement could also seek to tackle Iran’s reported “arming of militias, whether it be the Houthis in Yemen, or certain groups in Iraq, or in Syria or Lebanon and even further. “

“And, of course, its ballistic missile programs and other weapons programs that (it) continue to spread chaos around the region,” Al-Saud added.

CNBC has contacted Iranian officials for a response to Al Saud’s comments and has not yet received a response.

Saudi Foreign Minister stressed the long-standing partnership his country has with the United States and that he would work with any administration. Al-Saud reiterated, however, that should the future president wish to re-engage with Iran, Saudi Arabia should be a “partner in these discussions.”

“The problem with Iran is the fact that it continues to believe in forcing its will in the region to export its revolution to its neighbors and beyond, and we need to address that,” he claimed, speaking to CNBC from NEOM , a mega-project and new planned city on Saudi Arabia’s northwestern Red Sea coast. Saudi Arabia is virtually world leaders at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Riyadh this weekend.

Regional rivalries

Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a decades-old struggle for regional dominance. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni majority, while Iran is home to a Shia Muslim majority.

Trump leaned into Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during his tenure, while his predecessor, Barack Obama, sought to normalize relations with Iran and create the nuclear deal. Trump’s exit from the JCPOA was hailed by America’s allies in the Gulf and was widely seen as a shift in US policy in the region.

However, the US position on Iran could change with an incoming administration. Elected President Joe Biden hopes to re-engage with Iran once in the White House, and re-entering the nuclear deal is a top priority for his future government. The Trump administration is set to sanction Iran further as his presidency ends, which could make Biden’s rapprochement with Iran more challenging.

Meanwhile, the new government’s relationship with Saudi Arabia could be harder to predict.

Biden has criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and has said he will reconsider ties with the kingdom, threatening in 2019 to stop arms sales to the nation and make what he described “the pariah they are.”

In October, marking the second anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, Biden went on to describe how relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia could develop. He noted in a statement that “under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reconsider our relationship with the Kingdom, end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and ensure that America does not check its values ​​at the door to sell arms or buy oil. ”

“America’s commitment to democratic values ​​and human rights will be a priority, even for our closest security partners,” he added.

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