US moves to placate Saudis on Iran nuclear deal
LONDON - In a bid to reassure a long-standing ally on the integrity of the recently signed nuclear agreement with Iran, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, where both the king and his defence minister, Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, expressed their support for the deal, but with reservations.
The Iran nuclear agreement, reached on July 14th with six major world powers, aims to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions put in place by the United States, the United Nations and the European Union. However, if the Islamic Republic were to violate the terms of the deal, sanctions are to be reinstated or snapped back, a point Carter said the king asked about.
“The only reservations that we discussed were ones that we clearly shared, namely that we attend to verification of the agreement as it’s implemented and also with respect to the so-called snapback of sanctions. Actually, the king used that very phrase,” Carter told reporters. “So those are the aspects of the implementation, the agreement that we discussed.
But those are the same issues that we know will arise in the course of the implementation.”
Carter said the United States and Saudi Arabia had a long-standing and old relationship with new challenges. “The two new challenges that preoccupy both the United States and Saudi Arabia today are first of all Iran and its malign activities in the region and potential for aggression,” Carter said. “And number two, ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and other forms of violent extremism in the region.”
Besides Iran and the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS), the US defence secretary and Saudi officials discussed other important regional issues, including Syria, Iraq and the current war in Yemen.
Carter said talks with Saudi officials also centred on the two countries working to “bolster our joint deterrent and response capabilities in the Gulf region”, which he said include special operations and other ground forces, maritime and air forces, cyber forces and ballistic missile defence forces. King Salman is expected to visit the United States in the autumn, Carter said. “We’ll have an opportunity to follow up on many of these issues… when the king visits the United States in the fall,” he said.
A day after the meeting Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters that, while consultations continue over the deal, Washington had reassured Saudi Arabia about the possibility of snap back sanctions if Iran violates the agreement.
“We are currently in talks with the American government regarding these details, but it (the deal) generally seems to have achieved these objectives,” said Jubeir, who visited Washington in July.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies worry that the freeing of economic sanctions on Iran will lead to the Islamic Republic increasing its financial support for its Shia proxy groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, which shares a border with Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes in Yemen since March, targeting the Iranian-backed rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In June, Saudi Arabia and France announced a joint-feasibility study regarding the building of two nuclear reactors in the kingdom, while the Saudis also reached accords with Russia and South Korea on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Observers believe Riyadh is building alliances beyond its ties with Washington in order to counter Tehran, under a more assertive foreign policy adopted since Salman acceded to the throne.