Saudi Arabia backs Iran deal after Obama's assurances

Riyadh believes Washington's deal with Teheran will contribute to Middle Eastern security and stability

US President Barack Obama during his meeting with Saudi King Salman at the White House last Friday.
US President Barack Obama during his meeting with Saudi King Salman at the White House last Friday.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Saudi Arabia is satisfied with assurances from US President Barack Obama about the Iran nuclear deal and believes the agreement will contribute to security and stability in the Middle East, a senior Saudi official said.

Saudi King Salman met Mr Obama at the White House last Friday to seek more support in countering Iran, and the US administration, on its part, aimed to use the visit to shore up relations after a period of tensions.

The visit is the King's first to the United States since ascending to the throne in January, and comes after Washington agreed to a nuclear deal with Teheran in July.

The US-Saudi relationship has suffered because of what Riyadh sees as Mr Obama's withdrawal from the region, lack of direct American action against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and a perceived US tilt towards Iran since the 2011 Arab uprisings.

But the countries share many strategic objectives and depend on each other on various core security, economic and political issues.

Speaking after the meeting between Mr Obama and King Salman, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the US President had assured the Saudi King that the agreement prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, includes inspections of military and suspected sites and has a provision for the snapback of sanctions if Iran violates the agreement.

Under those conditions, Mr al-Jubeir said, Saudi Arabia supported the deal. "Now we have one less problem for the time being to deal with, with regards to Iran. We can now focus more intensely on the nefarious activities that Iran is engaged in in the region."

Gulf Arab states had previously expressed their support for the Iran nuclear deal, but fear that the lifting of sanctions on Iran would enable it to pursue destabilising policies in the Middle East. However, critics say the nuclear deal will empower Iran economically to increase its support of militant groups in the region.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are opposed on a number of regional issues, especially the Syrian civil war and unrest in Yemen, where a coalition of Arab states led by Riyadh, assisted by Washington, is targeting Iran-allied Houthi forces.

Mr Obama said last Friday that he and King Salman shared concerns about Yemen and the need to restore a functioning government as well as address the humanitarian situation there.

US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said ahead of King Salman's visit that Washington believed more care needs to be taken to avoid civilian casualties in the air strikes against Houthi forces in Yemen.

Mr al-Jubeir last Friday said the humanitarian crisis in Yemen was being exacerbated by the Houthis and that supplies were at risk of being diverted from Yemenis who need them most, but that Saudi Arabia was working with international groups to send supplies to Yemen.

Mr Obama and King Salman discussed the potential fast-tracking of the release of American military technology and weapons systems to Saudi Arabia, Mr al-Jubeir said, and discussed a "new strategic partnership" between the two countries, although he gave few details.

The Gulf state is in advanced discussions with the US government about buying two frigates based on a coastal warship that Lockheed Martin Corp is building for the US Navy, a deal valued at well over US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion).

The sale would be the cornerstone of a long-delayed multi-billion-dollar modernisation of the Royal Saudi Navy's Gulf-patrolling eastern fleet of ageing US warships and would include smaller patrol boats.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 06, 2015, with the headline 'Saudi Arabia backs Iran deal after Obama's assurances'. Subscribe