Saudi prince hopes to clinch deal with Iran

Published March 4, 2022
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman speaks during televised interview in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. — Reuters/File
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman speaks during televised interview in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. — Reuters/File

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia intends to continue “detailed talks” with Iran in order to reach a satisfactory agreement for both, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said, while stressing the need for a strong nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers at talks in Vienna.

In remarks to The Atlantic monthly, carried by Saudi state media on Thursday, he said direct talks with Iran would enable reaching “a good situation and mark a bright future” for the region’s Sunni and Shia powers, which have been locked in a rivalry playing out in conflicts across the Middle East.

“Iran is a neighbour forever, we cannot get rid of them and they cannot get rid of us,” the Saudi state news agency cited him as saying.

His comments come as indirect US-Iran talks in Vienna move closer to reviving a 2015 nuclear pact which curbed Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Says Israel can become ‘a potential ally’ if conflict with Palestinians is resolved

Riyadh and its Gulf allies had seen the pact as flawed for not addressing their concerns over Iran’s ballistic missiles programme 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 crown prince said.

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.

Prince Mohammed also said that Israel can become “a potential ally” of Saudi Arabia if the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved. “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,” he was cited as saying by the state news agency.

‘Biden should focus on America’s interests’

The Saudi crown prince said he does not care whether US President Joe Biden misunderstood things about him, saying Biden should be focusing on America’s interests.

Since Biden took office in January 2021, the long-standing strategic partnership between Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and Washington has come under strain over Riyadh’s human rights record, especially with respect to the Yemen war and the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Prince Mohammed, the de facto Saudi ruler, suggested that Riyadh could choose to reduce investments in the United States. “Simply, I do not care,” the crown prince said when asked by The Atlantic whether Biden misunderstood things about him. He said it was up to Biden “to think about the interests of America”. “We don’t have the right to lecture you in America. The same goes the other way.”

The Biden administration released a US intelligence report implicating the crown prince in the murder of Khashoggi, which Prince Mohammed denies, and pressed for the release of political prisoners.

The crown prince said he felt his own rights had been violated by the accusations against him in the brutal murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi, who was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

“I feel that human rights law wasn’t applied to me...Article XI of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that any person is innocent until proven guilty,” he said.

Asked whether Saudi rule could transform into a constitutional monarchy, he said no. “Saudi Arabia is based on pure monarchy,” he said.

Prince Mohammed said Riyadh’s objective was to maintain and strengthen its “long, historical” relationship with America. He said Saudi investments in the United States amounted to $800 billion. “In the same way we have the possibility of boosting our interests, we have the possibility of reducing them.”

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2022

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