The White House is looking for an endorsement – any endorsement – from foreign capitals for the tentative deal with Iran that it ironed out last week. On Monday, the administration seemed to get a favorable nod from an unexpected source: Iran’s chief regional nemesis, Saudi Arabia.
“The council of ministers expressed hope for attaining a binding and definitive agreement that would lead to the strengthening of security and stability in the region and the world,” read a statement released by the Saudi Kingdom’s cabinet. The statement added that Riyadh supports a “Middle East and the Arabian Gulf region free of all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.”
Some are jumping on the characterization that the Saudis are wildly supportive of the outlines of a prospective arrangement with Iran, the particulars of which apparently differ depending on which side of the negotiations is speaking. MSNBC political reporter Benjy Sarlin, a fair and honest journalist, apparently bought the notion that the Saudi’s anodyne rhetorical support for a region free of nuclear weapons amounted to a robust endorsement of the prospective deal.
Saudi Arabia, who just entered a deadly proxy war with Iran in Yemen, like the nuclear deal http://t.co/JLdzHLipBL
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) April 6, 2015
Nonsense. The Saudi’s perfunctory support for nuclear non-proliferation is not news. What is of interest is Riyadh’s second contention. The Saudis suggest that the terms of this deal that result in the lifting of all trade restrictions including those on oil would allow Iran the ability to expand its support for pro-Tehran proxies like the Houthis in Yemen.
The statement stressed a need for “good neighborliness and non-interference in the affairs of Arab states” — a likely reference to Iran and its role in civil wars in the Arab world.
The kingdom is also concerned that loosening sanctions will enable Tehran to more generously support armed proxies opposed by Riyadh in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
That claim, and not the boilerplate denunciation of nuclear weapons, is the most significant contention made by the Saudis. It amounts to a declaration that the Saudi position is that this preliminary Iran deal has weakened their position in the region and will necessitate a more forceful military response in theaters like Yemen.
And the ambiguity about precisely what sanctions relief is contained within this deal is only going to amplify the Saudi Kingdom’s paranoia about Iran’s growing regional influence. While the United States has claimed that sanctions relief will be phased, take at least a year to fully implement, and will only be triggered if Iran complies with its end of the deal, Iran has another view.
Iran’s top negotiators have repeatedly said that sanctions relief would not be implemented in phases, as claimed by the United States. Instead, the Iranians insist, all nuclear-related United Nations resolutions, as well as U.S. and EU nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions, will be lifted immediately once a comprehensive nuclear accord is signed.
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has disputed the U.S. ‘fact sheet,’ saying he had protested the issue with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
An Iranian version of a ‘fact sheet’ released to Iranian media following the framework accord said the following: “After the implementation of the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action, all of the U.N. Security Council resolutions will be revoked, and all of the multilateral economic and financial sanctions by the EU and unilateral sanctions by the United States, including financial, banking, insurance, investment, and all related services in various fields including oil, gas, petrochemicals, and automobile manufacturing will immediately be annulled.”
If this is what constitutes an endorsement from a key regional player for the White House’s deal with Iran, it underwhelms.