US should include Saudi Arabia in future Iran talks, says foreign minister

Prince Faisal bin Farhan hopes that security co-operation with the US will continue

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at the State Department, in Washington, U.S., October 14, 2020. Manuel Balce Ceneta/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Saudi Arabia is confident it will have strong ties with the incoming US administration of Joe Biden, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said, as he urged the next American president to include the kingdom in any future talks with Iran.

Prince Faisal said that a broadened deal on Iran's nuclear activity – dubbed the JCPOA+ after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed by Iran and world leaders in 2015 but abandoned by President Donald Trump two years later – should tackle issues like ballistic missiles and support of Tehran's proxies.

Should the next US president begin talks with Iran to recommit to the terms of the 2015 deal, Prince Faisal told CNBC news that Saudi Arabia should be a “partner in those discussions.”

These should tackle Iran's “arming of militias, whether it’s the Houthis in Yemen, or certain groups in Iraq or in Syria, or Lebanon, and even beyond.

“And, of course, its ballistic missile programmes and other arms programmes, which [it] continues to use to spread havoc around the region,” Prince Faisal added.

Prince Faisal, who also spoke to Reuters at the G20 summit in Riyadh, said that it would be "entirely appropriate" for the US to designate the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen as a foreign terrorist group.

"We all know much of their weapons and a significant part of their ideology comes from Iran. So they are certainly a foreign-backed terrorist organisation," he said.

In recent years, the Houthis have claimed numerous ballistic missile and weaponised drone attacks targeting key infrastructure and civilian facilities in the kingdom, although the many of these claims have been disputed.

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Reports suggest US President Donald Trump's administration is looking at blacklisting the group as part of its "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran although there is no official comment. Iran denies that it gives financial and military support to the Houthis.

Saudi Arabia was critical of the 2015 Iran deal for not addressing Tehran's other malign activities in the region. A key question now is how Mr Biden, vice president at the time the deal was agreed, will address Tehran's ballistic missiles and support for regional proxies in any talks to revive an international nuclear pact with Iran that Mr Trump quit in 2018.

Riyadh is hoping that the next administration will at least maintain some of the pressure that was put in place by Mr Trump. But Prince Faisal said he was confident close ties between Riyadh and Washington would remain under the next administration.

"Any discussions we will have with the future administration will lead to strong co-operation," he said.

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al Jadaan told Bloomberg last week that the US would remain an important ally and that this was not dependent upon “different parties coming into government”.

Prince Faisal also said Saudi Arabia enjoyed "good, amicable" relations with Turkey, which has been at odds with the kingdom for some years over foreign policy and attitudes towards Islamist political groups.

For more than a year, some have speculated that the kingdom was slowing imports from Turkey.

The minister said he hasn't seen any trading data that would support the existence of any boycotts or restrictions.

Commenting on the rift among Gulf countries with Qatar, Prince Faisal said Riyadh was seeking a way to end a dispute with Qatar. The dispute dates from 2017 when the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar, severing diplomatic and transport connections and accusing it of supporting terrorism. Qatar denies the allegations.