Saudi prince sees no Iran dialogue

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Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during a press conference in Riyadh, on April 25, 2016 (AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine)

DUBAI, May 2, (Agencies): Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince has ruled out any dialogue with Iran, a country he said was busy plotting to control the Muslim world. Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi defence minister, said in a TV interview to be broadcast later on Tuesday his country could crush Iran-aligned fighters in Yemen where Saudi forces head a coalition of Gulf Arab states intervening in a civil war. Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran compete for influence in the Middle East, supporting rival groups in Syria’s civil war. In Yemen, Iran denies providing financial or military support to the Houthis who are fighting government forces allied with Saudi Arabia. Asked if Saudi Arabia was ready to open a direct dialogue with Tehran, Mohammed said it was impossible to talk with a power that was planning for the return of the Imam Mahdi — whom Shi’ites believe was a descendent of the Prophet who went into hiding 1,000 years ago and will return to establish global Islamic rule before the end of the world. “How do you have a dialogue with this (Iran)?” Mohammed said in clips of the interview posted on social media.

“Its (Iran’s) logic is that the Imam Mahdi will come and they must prepare the fertile environment for the arrival of the awaited Mahdi and they must control the Muslim world.” Under Iran’s constitution since the 1979 revolution, the country’s supreme leader is the earthly representative of the Imam until his return. Asked to respond to reports that after two years of war and Saudi’s military intervention the Houthis, aligned to ex- Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, still control large swathes of Yemen and large quantities of weapons, Prince Mohammed said: “We can uproot the Houthis and Saleh in a matter of days.” In the clips available in advance of the broadcast he did not elaborate on the Saudi strategy for Yemen.

Meanwhile, officials and experts from Gulf Arab countries are in Washington for the next two weeks to take part in a series of public lectures aimed at addressing issues of concern for the region under the Trump administration. Saudi Arabia’s Undersecretary for International Communication at the Information Ministry, Abdulmohsen Alyas says the talks will address “issues of misunderstanding and miscommunication” between the United States and its Gulf allies through direct and frank discussions on important issues. The lectures at Washingtonbased think tanks, including the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Atlantic Council, will run from Tuesday until May 12. Speakers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain will discuss topics ranging from economic reforms in the region to developments in women’s rights, counterterrorism efforts and the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Elsewhere, Britain can no longer rely on US leadership on Middle East policy and must work more closely with Europe to ensure the Iran nuclear deal stays in place, among other policies, a committee of lawmakers said in a report on Tuesday.

The deal between Iran and six major powers restricts Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international oil and financial sanctions. During his US presidential campaign, Donald Trump called the agreement “the worst deal ever negotiated” and his administration has launched a review of whether lifting sanctions is in the United States’ national security interests. “We can no longer assume America will set the tone for the West’s relationship with the Middle East,” said David Howell, chairman of the British parliament’s House of Lords International Relations Committee. In its report, the committee cited in particular Trump’s approach to Iran and to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“The new US administration has the potential to destabilise further the region … The US president has taken positions that are unconstructive and could even escalate conflict,” it said. It said it was not an option for Britain to reduce its engagement in the region as exports to the Middle East are worth more than to China and India combined and investment into the UK from the region was “extremely significant”. The report said Britain should work with its European partners on steps to ease restrictions on banks lending money for investment in Iran and to help develop new trade relationships, with Iran a priority for post-Brexit trade. While Trump was unlikely to try to destroy the nuclear deal, failing to ease sanctions would push Iran towards more extensive trade relations with powers such as China and Russia, it said. The report also said Britain should distance itself from the United States’ “destabilising postures” on the Arab- Israeli conflict and give serious consideration to recognising Palestine as a state to show it is committed to the two-state solution. Trump rattled Arab and European leaders in February by indicating he was open to a one-state solution, upending a position taken by successive administrations and the international community. He later said he liked the concept of a two-state solution but stopped short of reasserting a US commitment to eventual Palestinian statehood. “The resolution of the Israeli- Palestinian dispute must remain high amongst British foreign policy priorities,” the report said. “The government should be more forthright in stating its views on these issues despite the views of the US administration.”

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