Saudi Arabia to judge Iran’s Raisi by ‘reality on the ground’

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Saudi foreign minister says he was ‘very concerned’ about unanswered questions on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Saudi Arabia will judge Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi’s government by “the reality on the ground”, the kingdom’s foreign minister has said, adding that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on foreign policy.

Raisi, a hardline judge who secured an expected election victory on Saturday, said on Monday he wanted to improve ties with Gulf Arab neighbours while calling on regional rival Saudi Arabia to immediately halt its intervention in Yemen.

After six years of war, a military coalition led by Riyadh has failed to defeat the Houthi movement in Yemen. Tens of thousands have been killed in the war, which has caused what the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Saudi Arabia also opposes the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that Tehran and Washington are trying to revive in indirect talks.

The accord between Iran and world powers, which lifted sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme, has been in tatters since the US unilaterally withdrew in 2018 under former President Donald Trump. Since the US pulled out and reimposed harsh sanctions, Iran has gradually lessened its own compliance with the deal.

“From our perspective, foreign policy in Iran is in any case run by the supreme leader and therefore we base our interactions and our approach to Iran on the reality on the ground, and that is what we will judge the new government on, regardless of who is in charge,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told a news conference in Vienna on Tuesday.

He said he was “very concerned” about unanswered questions on Iran’s nuclear programme, an apparent reference to the UN nuclear watchdog seeking explanations on the origin of uranium particles found at undeclared sites in Iran.

The current agreement between Iran and the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is set to expire on June 24.

A new interim agreement under which the IAEA is allowed access to Iranian nuclear sites has yet to be announced.

“I think it’s important that even though the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] discussions are ongoing, that these outstanding issues be addressed and be addressed seriously and that we hold Iran accountable for its activities, and hold it to its commitments under the non-proliferation treaty and its commitments to the IAEA,” Prince Faisal said.

Saudi Arabia and Gulf allies continue to pressure Iran over its nuclear programme, which Tehran says is entirely peaceful, and its ballistic missile programme. US intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons programme that it halted in 2003.

In a bid to contain tensions between them, Saudi Arabia and Iran began direct talks in April in the Iraqi capital Baghdad to address several points of contention.

Ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia were cut in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions following the kingdom’s execution of a revered Muslim Shia scholar.

The Saudi embassy in Iran shut down in 2016 as relations deteriorated.

Raisi said on Monday that Iran would have “no problem” with a possible reopening of the Saudi embassy in Tehran and that the “restoration of relations faces no barrier”.

“There are no obstacles from Iran’s side to re-opening embassies… there are no obstacles to ties with Saudi Arabia,” he said.

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