Saudi media attack Iran deal as assault on Arab interests

RIYADH (REUTERS) - Saudi Arabian media attacked Iran's nuclear deal with world powers on Wednesday, with cartoonists depicting it as an assault on Arab interests and columnists decrying the focus on Teheran's atomic plans instead of its backing for regional militias.

Riyadh's official reaction to the deal was a terse statement that welcomed any agreement that would ensure Iran could not develop a nuclear arsenal, but stressed the importance of tough inspections and the ability to reimpose sanctions quickly.

In private, however, Saudi officials fear an Iran released from international pressure and economic sanctions will have more freedom and money to back allies across the region who are opposed by Riyadh.

A cartoon in Asharq al-Awsat, a pan-Arab daily close to King Salman's branch of the ruling family, showed a trampled body marked "Middle East", with a placard saying "nuclear deal"sticking from its head.

The top-hatted and turbaned silhouettes of America's Uncle Sam and an Iranian cleric ran across the body hand in hand, portraying a widely voiced concern that Washington's quest for a deal means it has realigned with Tehran at Arab expense.

A Saudi official on Tuesday told Reuters he feared the agreement would make the Middle East more dangerous if it gave too many concessions to an Iranian government that Riyadh blames for turmoil in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

In al-Jazirah daily, columnist Jasser al-Jasser wrote an article headlined "A terrorist Iran instead of a nuclear Iran", alluding to his fear that the deal would simply allow Tehran to back Shi'ite Muslim militias and militants.

A concern that such Iranian involvement in Arab countries was feeding the sectarian conflict that allowed Islamic State to thrive was evident in a cartoon in the Saudi daily al-Watan, also owned by a branch of the ruling family.

It showed an Iranian cleric with a malignant facial expression turning the spigot on an oil pipeline marked "nuclear deal", from which dollar bills were pouring into the mouth of a masked militant labelled "terrorism".

In a column on the front page of al-Hayat, another Saudi-owned Arab daily, Ghassan Charbel also linked the deal to Islamic State, but he argued that it was shared fear of the group that had prompted Iran and the United States to agree.

"A third man contributed to achieving the agreement without showing up or calling for it. His name is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,"he wrote, referring to the militant group's self-declared caliph.