Saudi Arabia: Iran must engage in talks to end regional tensions

Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers held in Vienna

King Salman of Saudi Arabia chairs a cabinet meeting via video call. SPA
King Salman of Saudi Arabia chairs a cabinet meeting via video call. SPA

Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet on Wednesday said Iran must engage in negotiations to avoid escalations and tensions in the region.

The kingdom’s call came as nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna aimed at bringing the US back into the 2015 accord with Tehran were adjourned for a week to allow negotiators to consult their governments.

“The international community must reach an agreement with stronger and longer determinants that implements control measures which prevent [Iran] from obtaining nuclear weapons and developing the necessary capabilities for it,” a late-night Saudi Cabinet meeting, chaired by King Salman, concluded.

In 2018, Washington unilaterally left Iran's nuclear agreement that holds Tehran to strict uranium enrichment limits and international inspections in exchange for lifting sanctions.

Then president Donald Trump said the accord needed to be renegotiated and imposed harsh sanctions on Iran. Tehran then started to breach the deal’s terms and increase stockpiles of enriched uranium, announcing last week that it would enrich to 60 per cent – close to the 90 per cent needed for weapons grade.

But Iran opened negotiations with the five remaining countries in the group – Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia.

There is significant regional concern that Middle East states are not included directly in the talks and that the deal does not address Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal nor its networks of proxy militias.

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said last week that Iran’s plan to enrich to 60 per cent was “a clear and sure step towards developing a nuclear weapon”.

Iran denies trying to build an atom bomb.

Iran nuclear sites in pictures

The Saudi statement came amid reports that Iran held talks with officials from the kingdom in Baghdad this month.

A western diplomatic and Iraqi government source told The National the meeting “focused on reducing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia".

Those involved in the discussions were “senior officials, rather than ministers”, said the diplomat, who was briefed on the talks.

Saudi Arabia has not made an official statement on the talks in Baghdad and a senior official from Riyadh told Arabic media outlets they had not been involved in any meeting.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Tuesday "there is a will to restore" relations between Tehran and Riyadh.

"It’s good that we start to talk and everyone should be happy about these communications. We have had ups and downs, but we have been able to act maturely to have communications," he said.

Saudi Arabia also urged Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels to halt their attacks on the kingdom.

"The Cabinet condemned the attempted attacks by Houthi militia to target civilians and civilian infrastructure in a systematic and deliberate manner," said the statement.

There have been near-daily rocket and armed drone attacks on the kingdom, most of which are intercepted by air defences or the air force. Civilians are often affected by the attacks.

Updated: April 21, 2021 02:18 PM

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