Saudi media blast Iran nuclear deal

Friday 17/07/2015
Anwar Eshki: \'Now the ball is in Iran’s court\'

LONDON - Despite an official state­ment from Riyadh wel­coming the Iran nuclear deal, Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled media blasted the agreement, labelling it a mistake and an assault on Arab in­terests.

In a statement issued late July 14th, Saudi Arabia said it supported an agreement to stop Iran gaining nuclear weapons but emphasised the importance of a strict inspections regime and the ability to reimpose sanctions.

The comments, attributed to “an official source” by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, went on to say, “Given that Iran is a neighbour, Saudi Arabia hopes to build with her better relations in all areas on the basis of good neighbourliness and non-interference in internal affairs.”

That conciliatory tone was absent from Saudi media. In an editorial in Al Riyadh newspaper, the nuclear deal was described as “a green light for the Gulf countries, led by the kingdom, to develop a nuclear programme that allows them to possess nuclear fuel and also acts as a deterrent to guarantee the stability of the balance of power”.

Echoing the pessimism, the lead editorial in Al-Watan newspaper dismissed the nuclear agreement, saying: “The latest deal delayed the ‘nuclear weapon’ for 15 years only… in return for lifting sanctions. This is a real Iranian gain and opens the door to the Persian state to be totally dedicated to regional affairs and to its attempts to boost its role in some Arab capitals like Baghdad, Beirut and Damascus.”

A cartoon in the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, which is affiliated with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s branch of the royal family, showed a trampled body marked “Middle East”, with a placard saying “nuclear deal” sticking from its head.

Saudi analyst and Council of Gulf International Relations President Tariq al-Shammari told the Associated Press: “This agreement, from our point of view, represents an indirect threat to Gulf and Arab interests and peace.” He went on to say that behind the scenes, Gulf Arab countries will work to try to keep Iran isolated politically and economically, pointing out that Saudi Arabia in particular has moved to improve ties with Russia, which is a strong ally of Iran.

According to Saudi military and strategic expert and Director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, Anwar Eshki the agreement reached with Iran is not perfect but the positives outweigh the negatives if it is enforced and respected by the parties involved.

“With the lifting of sanctions and the freeing of Iran’s frozen assets, Iran can choose from two paths,” Eshki said. “Either it allocates these funds to support and help its population, which is a good thing; or it could use this new-found wealth to continue its unlawful activities in the region, which would lead to the UN Security Council, Arab coalition states and the entire international community… to stand against it. And now the ball is in Iran’s court.”

Concerning the issue of mistrust, which is a recurring theme in the Saudi media’s reaction to the nuclear agreement, Eshki said: “The lead US negotiator, Wendy Sherman, has stated publicly that ‘deception is a part of [Iran’s] DNA’, which upset Iran at the time, but indicates that the negotiators have factored this issue into their calculus.”

“But Iran at the moment is in a difficult situation because it has to allow international inspectors into all nuclear facilities, as well as some of its military locations; moreover these UN inspectors will have their own intelligence on the ground, which puts Tehran in a vulnerable position in front of the international community,” Eshki added.

A Saudi official told Reuters he feared the agreement would make the Middle East more dangerous if it gave too many concessions to an Iranian government, which Riyadh blames for turmoil in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Earlier in 2015, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal warned that a deal might fuel a regional arms race, stating that “whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same”.