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November 29, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9655

In Advance Of Vienna Nuclear Talks With Iran, Saudi Press Criticized U.S. For Showing Weakness Towards Iran And Ignoring Its Aspirations Of Hegemony

November 29, 2021
Iran, Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 9655

Ahead of today's renewal of the nuclear talks between Iran and the superpowers in Vienna, articles in the Saudi press had expressed concern over the policy of appeasement taken by the West, and especially the U.S., towards Iran. This concern in Saudi Arabia has been evident since President Joe Biden won the presidential election in November 2020, with the fear that he would seek to revive the Obama administration's policy and rejoin the JCPOA nuclear agreement from which President Trump withdrew in 2018.

Articles in the Saudi press stated that the talks with Iran will not be addressing any Iranian threats besides the nuclear threat – neither its ballistic missiles nor its proxy militias in the region, such as Ansar Allah (the Houthis) in Yemen, which frequently fires missiles and launches drones into Saudi territory, especially since Biden took office. Articles also condemned the U.S. policy of appeasement vis-à-vis Iran as damaging to Saudi and Gulf security; under Biden, the U.S. has revoked its designation of Ansar Allah as a terrorist organization, suspended sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia,[1] and removed U.S. Patriot missile batteries and other air defense systems from the kingdom.[2]

Alarm in the Saudi press about U.S. policy further escalated following the August 2021 U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Saudi analysts and journalists wrote at that time that the U.S. plans to abandon the region and that Iran will see this as a green light to continue its aggression. Some even proposed taking action to confront Iran without consideration of the U.S., because Iran understands only the language of force and negotiating with it is futile.[3] 

Apparently, Saudi apprehensions that the U.S. will abandon it to face the Iranian threat on its own have indeed led it to cultivate other avenues alongside its strategic ties with the U.S. For example, it was recently reported that the Saudis have held four rounds of talks with Iran itself, apparently in a bid to end the war in Yemen and revive Saudi-Iran diplomatic relations. So far, however, no agreements have been reached.[4] Furthermore, in August 2021, the kingdom signed a military cooperation agreement with Russia.[5] Moreover, as members of OPEC+, Saudi Arabia and Russia often act together to raise oil prices, against U.S. wishes.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia has grown significantly closer to Qatar, and there also are signs of Saudi-Turkey rapprochement – both Qatar and Turkey are supports of the Muslim Brotherhood which Saudi Arabia has designated a terrorist organization. However, it is not clear whether Saudi Arabia seeks to form an anti-Iran front or merely to have Qatar mediate between it and Iran. There are also signs of a possible Saudi rapprochement with Syria, where Iran has been increasing its presence.[6] 

The articles published by the Saudi press in the lead-up to the Vienna nuclear talks expressed displeasure with Western policy, and especially U.S. policy, towards Iran and its allies. They argued that the West is negotiating with Iran while ignoring the latter's aspirations towards hegemony in the region; that negotiations are a waste of time since Iran is not eager to reach an agreement; and that the U.S. is not being sufficiently forceful vis-à-vis Iran. Others focused on the Houthi-Iran threat to Saudi Arabia, stating that for a range of reasons, including reasons connected to the negotiations, the international community and the U.S. are doing nothing to tackle this threat, and should stand firm on it instead of merely issuing condemnations.

The following are translated excerpts from some of the articles published in the Saudi press ahead of today's resumption of nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna.

Senior Saudi Media Figure: To Negotiate Seriously, U.S. Must Be Firm With Iran

Senior Saudi media figure Tariq Al-Homayed, formerly the chief editor of the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote on November 24, 2021 that renewing the negotiations with Iran is a waste of time since neither side seems to be serious. Iran, he said, is not really interested in an agreement and is unwilling to discuss the issues of its missiles and the militias it employs throughout the region. As for the West and the U.S., they are eager to settle the Iranian issue so they can turn their attention to their conflict with China and Russia. Consequently, they are rushing to make a deal with Iran, while disregarding the fact that it is an ally of these two countries, he said. 

Al-Homayed wrote:  "The negotiations in Vienna will apparently resume next week [on November 29, 2021], in a bid to reach a final agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue. All the signs indicate that these negotiations will be a waste of time, since none of the sides are serious… The Iranians themselves do not really want to resume serious talks… Iran is toughening [its stance by posing] terms and demands, such as [the demand] that the U.S. and the West pay over sums frozen under the sanctions even before an agreement is reached. Iran also refuses to discuss its ballistic missiles and drones, let alone its terrorist militias in the region, and continues to enrich [uranium] to a troubling level… If no agreement is reached – and Iran does not want one – it will attain enrichment levels that will allow it to declare the success of its nuclear enterprise… and the world will have to deal with it.

"The Western, and especially the American, lack of seriousness is evident from [the fact that] Washington is begging Iran to return to the negotiation table, without even taking serious measures to convince it that there is a stick on the table, not just a carrot. The U.S. is not signaling to Iran that it plans to use force, as [even] some  dovish Democrats have demanded,  including [former Middle East aide in the Obama administration] Dennis Ross, who wrote that threatening war could pave the way to negotiations.[7] True, we have heard Washington declare that it is losing its patience, but this is neither serious nor true. According to sources, the Americans have not conveyed any serious message to the Iranians.

"Therefore, we are facing a futile negotiation between two sides with narrow goals and a different strategy: Iran is looking for some [achievement] that can be marketed to the Iranian people as a victory. If no agreement is reached, [the Iranian regime] will present [itself] as refusing to succumb to America. And if [the negotiations] do yield an agreement, the U.S. will be presented as begging and weak. [The latter scenario] will strengthen the Revolutionary Guards, who already control all the power centers in Iran. The American side wants to fulfill the Democrats' campaign promise to fully realize Obama's dream. They also want to withdraw from the region and turn their attention to their conflict with China and Russia. This is a mistaken approach, because Iran is a staunch ally of China and Russia, which requires American intervention…"[8] 

 
The world closely examines "the nuclear agreement" while sitting on and ignoring "the Iranian militias" (Source: the Saudi-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, November 23, 2021)

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Columnist: The Idea That Rapprochement With The West Will Soften Iran Is Baseless

Amir Taheri, a columnist for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote on November 26 that the belief of Biden and his predecessors, that Iran's belligerence stems from its exclusion from the international community, is mistaken, because Iran has for years chosen to exclude itself from this community, despite repeated attempts by American administrations to embrace it. The following are excerpts from the paper's English translation of Taheri's article:

"As the Biden administration prepares for the revival, in some form at least, of the controversial 'nuke deal' with the Islamic Republic in Tehran, usual suspects in Washington are peddling an old theme: Bringing Iran in from the cold!

"The argument is that the Islamic Republic is behaving badly because, “excluded” from the outside world, it feels like a threatened lone wolf and thus obliged to adopt an aggressive posture.

"The argument was first formulated in the 1980s by the then German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. It was then taken up by French President Jacques Chirac and passed on to a string of British foreign secretaries… Over the years, numerous Western political figures have adopted it, among them Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Dominic Raab, until recently foreign secretary in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet.

"In the past four decades, supporters of 'bring Iran in from the cold' have pinned their hopes on various figures in Tehran... [But] the most persistent peddlers of that bill of goods have been President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry. It is their efforts that Joe Biden and his secretary of State Anthony Blinken seem determined to resume.

"But how true is the 'exclusion' theory with regard to the Islamic Republic? The answer is: not at all. Far from trying to 'exclude' the Islamic Republic almost every country, first among them the United States, have often gone out of their way to include and accommodate Tehran’s new rulers…

"What happened [to Iran] was 'self-exclusion' as a Khomeinist gang, with a nod and a wink from the ayatollah, raided the US Embassy in Tehran and took its diplomats hostage. At another level, the Khomeinist regime committed 'self-exclusion' by severing diplomatic ties with Egypt because of its decision to make peace with Israel…

"U.S. efforts to 'include' the Islamic Republic reached a new level during Ronald Reagan’s presidency when channels of communication were opened with rival Khomeinist factions in Tehran. With help from Israel, the US smuggled arms to Iran to help it halt Iraqi advances on the battlefield...

"The 'liberation' of Afghanistan and then Iraq provided further opportunities for 'including' the Islamic Republic... [which] was officially and publicly 'included' in US-led plans to reshape Afghanistan. In Iraq, we were personally aware of joint Washington-Tehran efforts to install first Ibrahim al-Jaafari and then Nuri al-Maliki as prime minister in Baghdad…

"The 'include Iran' lobby forgets the fact that it has been the Islamic Republic with its negative attitude and hubris that has excluded Iran from normal international life... For Obama and Biden the 'nuke deal' is the surest path to Iran’s 'inclusion'... 

"Nearly 20 years ago, former Iranian foreign minister Ardeshir Zahedi, the Iranian diplomat who had helped shape the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), exposed the futility of that pursuit. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in May 2003 he argued that 'Iran cannot unlearn what it has learned in the nuclear field since the 1950.' Zahedi passed away in exile in Switzerland last week. But his message is still worthy of scrutiny as the Biden team prepares for new talks with Tehran."[9]

On The Eve Of The Nuclear Talks, The U.S. And Europe Are Ignoring Iran's Aspirations Of Hegemony

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Emile Amin wrote on November 16 that Iran has aspirations of hegemony in the region, and seeks to realize these ambitions using non-conventional weapons, including nuclear ones, and by means of militias like Hizbullah and the Houthis: "Those who are eagerly pursuing Iran and trying to reach an agreement with it at any cost… should take a look at the Iranian constitution and draw a connection between [this constitution] and Iran's nuclear [ambitions], as well as its missiles, its delusions that it has sovereignty over the Arab Gulf, and its threats to the [shipping routes] in the Red Sea.

"The question that will occur to the reader, and which the U.S. and Europe should carefully consider, is why Iran wants to possess nuclear weapons. Several weeks ago it declared that it has 25 kilos of uranium enriched to 60%, which means that it is close to realizing [the goal of] 90% enrichment needed for the manufacture of a nuclear bomb. The interesting point is that Iran is not at war with any [enemy] on its borders, nor is it engaged in any existential struggle with anyone. This begs the question of what motivates the thinking of the Iranian leader…      

 

"As for Iran's neighbors in the Arab Gulf and in the Middle East, Iran still harbors a historic hostility towards the region, [hostility that is] connected to in the Persian culture. Take a look at the book Two Centuries of Silence, by nationalist Iranian historian Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub,  which describes the Arabs as uncivilized people that forced  Arabism [on others] by means of the sword... and who managed, by controlling the state for [only] 200 years, to destroy the Persian civilization.

 

"Given this thinking, the reader can understand the Ayatollahs' attitude towards the Arab countries, an attitude that Khomeini cultivated from the first days of his revolution, as he dreamt of seeing the flag of the Iranian revolution flying in every Arab capital. Tehran never stopped [pursuing] this dream, and perhaps it exploited the chaos created by the American presence in the region, and by the period of the false and deceptive Arab Spring, to expand its influence in unconventional ways. Because, as a medium-sized country, Iran believes it must preserve its hegemony by unconventional means, as evident from its support and cultivation of its proxies of war, from the Houthis in Yemen, to the Hashd Al-Sha'bi in Iraq, its envoys in Damascus and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Washington and Brussels did not notice Article 5 of the Iranian constitution, which says that [the role of the ruling] jurisprudent and of the Iranian state is to prepare the ground for [the coming of] the Imam al-Zaman  [i.e., the Mahdi, who will reappear at the End of Days], and therefore that the Iranian state in its present form is temporary, and so are its geographical boundaries…"[10] 

 

Saudi Writers: The U.S. And Western Feebleness Vis-à-vis Iran, Aimed At Facilitating Negotiations, Is Prolonging The War In Yemen

Ahead of the resumption of negotiations with Iran, the Saudi press also focused on the threat posed by Iran to Saudi Arabia. They argued that the UN's and America's eagerness to renew the nuclear agreement was causing them to neglect all the other threats posed by Iran to the region, and specifically to Saudi Arabia, such as the pro-Iranian militias, the ballistic missiles and the drones. They added that the feeble position taken by the UN and the U.S. towards Iran was prolonging the war in Yemen, and one writer even called this an act of "treason and plotting against humanity."

Khaled Bin Hamad Al-Malik, editor of the Saudi Al-Jazirah daily, wrote that the superpowers' weak position towards the Houthis in Yemen could actually be seen as support for them: "I allow myself to say that the Houthis' supporters include not only Iran and the Lebanese Hizbullah, and that certain international elements have done a lot to prolong this war, in which the Houthis have destroyed, or nearly destroyed, everything in the [Yemeni] state… Despite all these crimes perpetrated by the Houthis, who are supported by Iran and Hizbullah, the role of the Security Council and the superpowers has been confined to issuing condemnations and decisions that are useless in [ending] this exhausting war. [The Security Council and the superpowers] do not even leave us any hope that they might confront the stubborn Houthi position, which insists on nothing less than controlling the state and turning Yemen into Iran's back yard, so as to harm the [Saudi] kingdom. 

"Where is the U.S., which does not intervene even when its embassy is taken over and controlled by the Houthis? It suffices with issuing condemnations and rebukes, and imposing sanctions that are never enforced – even though it has the ability to force the perpetrators of the coup [i.e., the Houthis] to negotiate and resolve the controversies in Yemen by diplomatic means, instead of [continuing] this deadly conflict that inflicts grievous harm on Yemen and its people.

"But the U.S. does not do this. In fact, the U.S. and the other Security Council members seem to be pleased with what is happening in Yemen. They seem to be interested in prolonging the hostilities, as though the stability of the region, and the [need] to save its people from this danger, do not interest them and are not their responsibility, even though the UN has empowered them to promote peace and security in all the world's countries…

"It is time to adopt a firm international position on ending this war and holding Iran and Hizbullah accountable for fanning its flames. Were it not for the intervention of Iran and Hizbullah and the silence of the world, the Houthis would not have been able to continue their aggression, and to hold on to the territory they captured, to this very day… The international community, and especially the U.S., bear a great responsibility due to their feeble position on this war and their failure to adopt any serious stance on ending it…" [11]   

Hamoud Abu Taleb wrote in his November 23 column in the daily 'Okaz that the world's disregard of the Houthi crimes, prompted by the eagerness to resume negotiations with Iran, is an act of treason against humanity: "The international community, and especially the Security Council, bear considerable moral responsibility, given their negligence and the prolonging [of the war]. If a disaster occurs, the problem will affect not only Saudi Arabia and the [other] countries neighboring [Yemen], but the entire world. Encouraging the Houthis, or disregarding their despicable crimes, out of considerations related to the negotiations with Iran, or for any other reason, are acts of treason and plotting against humanity, not only against the interests of [various] countries. It is a great disgrace for the international community that it stands idly in the face of this abuse."[12]

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Mashari Al-Dhaidi wrote on November 24 that, in contrast to the coalition fighting in Yemen, the U.S. is taking only feeble measures against Iran and its proxies, instead of being firm: "The effective military action of the Arab coalition for saving Yemen, along with the [Yemeni] government forces and national resistance, against the Houthi gangs, which are managed by the Iran's Revolutionary Guards, is gaining momentum in a promising manner. The Houthis, along with dozens of officers from Iran's Revolutionary Guards [Corps] and from the Lebanese Hizbullah, have sustained heavy losses to life and property, including [damage] to depots and bases of their ballistic missiles and drones. One of the decisive battles was the battle for the defense of the Marib district, the stronghold of the government forces and functionaries… But we are [also waging] battles no less important on Yemen's west coast and in Al-Hudaydah, as well as in the Taiz mountains and in Ibb. The losses sustained by the Iranian and Yemeni armies are only increasing…

"[Moreover, the Americans] want their proxies and allies to emulate them. It's not enough for them to lose their way, they want others to lose their way too! The Houthis, who are subordinate proxies of Iran, are bullying the [world's] greatest superpower, and it sits and observes from the sidelines. I am referring to the fact that the Houthis took over the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, and several years later [also] detained American employees in Yemen. American officials claim that five to nine U.S. employees are being held hostage, including two employees of the American Agency for Development which has been operating in the country for 60 years…  After these detentions, the Houthis broke into the embassy and looted it… The lesson to be drawn from all this is that decisiveness[13]  is the only way to reach understandings with Iran and its gangs. As for the American way [adopted] by Obama and Biden, it is only a recipe for making the illness worse."[14]

 

[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1561 – Concern In Saudi Arabia And Gulf States That Biden Administration's Policy Of Appeasing Iran Will Come At Their Expense – March 3, 2021. However, on November 4, the U.S. State Department announced the approval of the sale to Saudi Arabia of air-to-air missiles for defensive use. Reuters.com, November 20, 2021.

[2] Apnews.com, September 11, 2021.

[4]  This is according to Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan, who told the Financial Times that the talks were positive but had not yet yielded any significant results. He added that Saudi Arabia was serious about these talks (Ft.com, October 15, 2021).

[5]  Raialyoum.com, Septepber 29, 2021.

[6] For example, Saudi intelligence chief Khalid bin Ali Al Humaidan reportedly visited Damascus this May. See Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 11, 2021.

[7] Foreignpolicy.com, October 27, 2021.

[8]  Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 24, 2021.

[9] English.aawsat.com, November 26, 2021.

[10] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 24, 2021.

[11]  Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), November 22, 2021.

[12]  'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), November 23, 2021.

[13] This is an allusion to Decisive Storm, the Saudi military operation in Yemen in March-April 2015, which launched the Saudi military intervention in the country.

[14]  Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 24, 2021.

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