Saudi foreign minister warns of 'dangerous' Iran nuclear acceleration

·3 min read
Germany's Heiko Maas meets Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in Berlin

By Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Friday that Iran's acceleration of its nuclear activities is putting the world in "a very dangerous place" amid efforts to bring Tehran back into a 2015 nuclear deal.

Speaking at a news conference in Washington a day after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, bin Farhan called for a "quick suspension" of Iranian activities in violation of the agreement under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for economic sanctions relief.

Bin Farhan also urged a "quick resumption" of indirect talks between the United States and Iran. Regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia are arch rivals.

"I think we are in a very dangerous place. The fact that we continue to see acceleration of those activities ... leads to the devaluation of the JCPOA," he said, using the initials of the agreement formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who took office in August, has so far refused to resume the indirect talks in Vienna.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration wants to negotiate a return to compliance with the deal after his predecessor Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, after which Iran resumed building its stockpile of enriched uranium.

"We have started a dialogue with Iran," bin Farhan said, referring to four rounds of talks that the two countries began holding in 2020 that focused primarily on the conflict in Yemen. "These interactions, while cordial, have been exploratory in nature and have not reached a state where we can say that we've made substantial progress."

Bin Farhan declined to answer when asked at the news conference to verify reports that Saudi Arabia is considering allowing Iran to reopen a consulate in the city of Jeddah. Saudi Arabia broke relations with Iran in 2016 in a dispute over the Saudi execution of a Shiite Muslim cleric.

On his trip to Washington, bin Farhan also met with Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran affairs.

LEBANON CRISIS

At the news conference, bin Farhan also discussed the political crisis in Lebanon, where he said the events of the past two days show the need for "real serious change" from the country's leaders. Tensions over a probe into last year's massive blast in Beirut burst into the worst street violence in more than a decade on Thursday.

In Afghanistan, bin Farhan said, the Taliban rulers should take the "path of national reconciliation" and bring together all elements of Afghan society, echoing calls by Western leaders for an inclusive government in the country where a U.S.-backed government collapsed in August as American and other foreign forces were withdrawing.

Asked about whether the United States is pressing for an acceleration in oil production by OPEC, Russia and others known as OPEC+, bin Farhan sidestepped the question by saying Saudi Arabia is "committed to a balanced energy market, a balanced oil market."

Saudi Arabia is managing the challenges to the global energy market posed by the COVID-19 pandemic "in a way that provides stability and serves the interests of producers and consumers," bin Farhan added.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Writing by Simon Lewis; Editing by Will Dunham)