JEDDAH: The US has launched a diplomatic drive to persuade skeptical allies in the Gulf of the benefits of a revived nuclear deal with Iran.
Top envoys and senators close to President Joe Biden are shuttling between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan, as talks continue in Vienna to breathe new life into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions collapsed in 2018 when Donald Trump withdrew from it and began reimposing sanctions, and Iran retaliated by increasing enrichment of fissile uranium beyond the purity permitted by the JCPOA.
Biden has said he will lift sanctions if Iran returns to compliance with the agreement. Iran says the US must act first. Talks to resolve the stalemate began in the Austrian capital three weeks ago, and diplomats expect a new draft agreement by the end of May.
However, US allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, say that, like the original JCPOA, a new agreement will not address Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional meddling through proxy militias in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.
Those concerns are “understandable and legitimate,” Chris Coons, a US senator from Delaware and a Biden confidant, said in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Coons said he was in the UAE to create “broader engagement” with Gulf partners.
The senator said “close consultation” with the UAE about the talks in Vienna was “important, expected and happening,” and he hoped the UAE “may not just be notified, but actually help.”
Meanwhile, several senior Biden administration officials, including Brett McGurk from the National Security Council and Derek Chollet from the State Department, have visited Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Amman and Cairo in a tour intended to boost “long-standing political, economic, cultural, and security ties.”
Senator Chris Murphy, another Biden ally, joined the diplomatic activity with visits to Oman, Qatar and Jordan for talks on a political solution to the war in Yemen, which he linked to the nuclear deal.
“So long as we’re still sanctioning the Iranian economy … it’s going to be hard to push the Houthis to a ceasefire,” he said. The nuclear deal “is very important, perhaps critical to peace in Yemen,” and without it, “the Iranians are going to see Yemen as an opportunity to make mischief against the US and our allies.”