Iran talks 'cordial' but no 'substantial progress', Saudi foreign minister says

Prince Faisal bin Farhan warns that Tehran's activities have left region in 'very dangerous place'

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan meets with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington on Thursday. AP
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Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Friday that Riyadh has held four rounds of talks with Iran, describing them as “cordial” but lacking significant progress at a time when Tehran's nuclear activities have put the region in “a very dangerous place.”

Speaking to reporters in Washington a day after meeting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Prince Faisal called for a "quick suspension" of Iranian activities breaching the 2015 nuclear agreement and said there should be a "quick resumption" of indirect talks between the US and Iran.

He said Riyadh has spoken with Tehran.

“These interactions have been [of] an exploratory nature, and have not reached a state where we can say we made substantial progress,” said Prince Faisal.

Iran topped Prince Faisal's agenda as he met Mr Blinken and argued that increased pressure on Tehran is inevitable if stalled talks don't make headway.

“You will have to put on the table enough tools that encourage Iran to come to the table. I wish that we wouldn't have to talk about pressure," the prince said.

"I wish that the government of Iran would see that it's in the real interest of the region and its own interest and in the interest of the people or Iran that it’s focused on discovering prosperity… rather than having this excessive focus on trying to expand its influence in the region."

On Lebanon, Prince Faisal described this week's violence in Beirut as “very concerning”, saying Riyadh hopes to see structural changes and a leadership that can address the country's economic and political problems.

Asked if Saudi Arabia plans to invite the new Prime Minister Najib Mikati to Riyadh, Prince Faisal did not give a direct answer.

The Saudi foreign minister welcomed the recent electoral progress in Iraq.

“We are encouraged that the political process in Iraq is healthy,” he said in response to questions from The National.

Prince Faisal expressed openness to work with parties in Baghdad, and said his country is “very engaged and we were very active, especially in the last year.”

On Afghanistan, Prince Faisal said Riyadh has had no contacts with the Taliban, and urged the hardline group to seek a path of reconciliation.

“We would certainly encourage different types of national reconciliation, focused on finding stability, financial security, finding a path to prosperity, that will lead to bring in all the elements of Afghan society," he said.

Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat reiterated his praise for the Abraham Accords, but said Riyadh is not ready to normalise relations with Israel before the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"We are very much convinced that the only way we can have lasting stability is if we find a way to address the issue of Palestine and the issue of a Palestinian state,” he said.

Prince Faisal said Saudi Arabia’s relations with China, which have grown in the last three years, did not come up in the meeting with Mr Blinken.

On his trip to Washington, Prince Faisal also met Robert Malley, the US special envoy for Iran affairs who is due to visit the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the near future.

Mr Malley has said he would co-ordinate with US security partners in the region on Iran to prepare for all contingencies, as the indirect talks to revive the nuclear accord remain at a standstill.

Updated: October 15, 2021, 8:16 PM