King Salman targets Iran during debut at United Nations

Updated 24 Sep 2020

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In this file photo, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends a virtual cabinet meeting in Neom, Saudi Arabia August 18, 2020. — Reuters
In this file photo, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends a virtual cabinet meeting in Neom, Saudi Arabia August 18, 2020. — Reuters

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz took aim at Iran during his debut on Wednesday at the annual United Nations meeting of world leaders, calling for a comprehensive solution to contain Riyadh’s regional rival and stop it from getting weapons of mass destruction.

He said Iran has exploited a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers “to intensify its expansionist activities, create its terrorist networks, and use terrorism,” adding that this had produced nothing but “chaos, extremism, and sectarianism.” “A comprehensive solution and a firm international position are required,” he told the 193-member General Assembly in a video statement that was pre-recorded due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States quit the Iran nuclear pact in 2018, with President Donald Trump dubbing it the “worst deal ever.” Washington has since imposed unilateral sanctions on Tehran and asserts that all countries also have to reinstate UN sanctions in an attempt to push the Islamic Republic to negotiate a new deal.

French President Emmanuel Macron told the UN on Tuesday that Washington’s sanctions campaign against Iran had failed.

All the remaining parties to the nuclear deal, including longtime US allies, and 13 of the 15 UN Security Council members say the US claim on UN sanctions is void, and diplomats say few countries are likely to reimpose the measures.

“Our experience with the Iranian regime has taught us that partial solutions and appeasement did not stop its threats to international peace and security,” King Salman said. Iran’s UN mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the king’s remarks.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in several proxy wars in the region, including in Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Tehran-aligned Houthi movement for more than five years.

Riyadh, which backs the Trump administration’s efforts to counter Iran, has blamed Iran for attacks on the kingdom’s oil facilities last year, a charge Tehran denies. Iran denies arming groups in the Middle East, including the Houthis, and blames regional tensions on the United States and its Gulf allies.

Trump made only a passing reference to Iran during his UN address on Tuesday, focusing instead on attacking China. Gulf Arab states have also been alarmed by the rising influence of Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, withholding financial support to the government needed to tackle Lebanon’s worst financial crisis in decades.

King Salman said a deadly blast in Beirut’s port last month “occurred as a result of the hegemony of Hezbollah ... over the decision-making process in Lebanon by force of arms.” Authorities have blamed the blast on a stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored at the port without safety measures. “This terrorist organisation must be disarmed,” the king said.

On attempts to mediate peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the Saudi monarch said a 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is the basis for a “comprehensive and just solution” ensuring the Palestinians obtain an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“We support the efforts of the current US administration to achieve peace in the Middle East by bringing the Palestinians and the Israelis to the negotiation table to reach a fair and comprehensive agreement,” he said. The king stopped short of endorsing recent US-brokered agreements by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to establish ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia has quietly acquiesced to the deals but has signaled it is not ready to take action itself.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2020