Saudi foreign minister says 'emboldened' Iran endangering maritime navigation

Prince Faisal bin Farhan accused Tehran on Tuesday of putting shipping in the Arabian Sea at risk

In his first comments following a series of attacks on international tankers in the Arabian Sea, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan accused an “emboldened” Iran on Tuesday of threatening the freedom of international navigation.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Prince Faisal said Tehran’s regional activity was growing increasingly negative.

“We already have an emboldened Iran. Iran is extremely active in the region with its negative activity whether it continues to supply the Houthis [in Yemen] or endanger shipping in the Arabian Gulf … [and] in being part of the destruction that’s happening to Lebanon’s economy,” he said.

He pointed to reports on Tuesday of the potential hijacking of an international vessel off the UAE coast.

The incident is the second disruption to commercial shipping following the drone attack on the Mercer tanker last week.

The Saudi foreign minister called for a holistic approach that would address Iran’s regional behaviour in any nuclear deal negotiations.

“We certainly support a deal with Iran as long as that deal ensures that Iran will not now or ever gain access to nuclear weapons technology. That’s the challenge,” he said.

However, Prince Faisal welcomed Iran’s integration into the region if it changes its behaviour.

“It’s not that we think Iran should forever be a pariah. We would very much welcome Iran as a productive part of region. It would be a significant contributor to regional stability, to regional economic prosperity, but that would require them engaging in the region as a state actor in a normal way.”

He called on Iran to end its support and arming of regional militias and to abandon the possibility of a weaponised nuclear programme.

“If the [nuclear deal] negotiations can achieve that … that’s a good thing,” he said.

He also spoke of Saudi Arabia's “robust engagement” with Washington on a series of issues, including nuclear negotiations with Iran and climate change.

“We have a very good engagement. There are issues, but as with any complex partnership, there are issues that we work out.”

Asked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Abraham Accords, in which four Arab states normalised relations with Israel in 2020, Prince Faisal praised the agreements but reiterated the kingdom’s position of the necessity of resolving the Palestinian issue first.

“Peace is a strategic choice for the Arabs but we need to find a path for solving the Palestinian issue and a path to a Palestinian state because that will deliver complete normalisation for Israel in the region,” he said.

He said the Abraham Accords have “worked positively to spur engagement” in the region.

But he added that “without solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in a sustainable, long-term way, we are not going to have real sustainable security in the region".

Updated: August 4th 2021, 5:01 AM