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Saudi Arabia needs to be a "associate" in any future nuclear cope with Iran, says Overseas Minister

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The Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan al-Saud speaks to the media on February 21, 2020 in Berlin.

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Saudi Arabia says it should be part of possible negotiations between the new US administration and Iran on a new nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud told CNBC.

Saudi Arabia is trying to partner with the US government on a possible new deal that will not only restrict Iran's nuclear activities but also address its "regional malicious activities," Al-Saud told Hadley Gamble on Saturday CNBC.

Such an agreement could be referred to as "JCPOA ++", he added. The JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers that curtailed the country's nuclear ambitions in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. The original agreement was signed by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, and Germany.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA in 2018, calling it the "worst deal in history". Since then, his government has imposed devastating sanctions on Iran known as the "maximum pressure campaign".

These sanctions have caused the Iranian rial to devalue one-fifth of its previous value against the dollar, and the country's gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk by around 6% for three consecutive years.

Other signatories to the 2015 agreement have stood by the deal, but there is talk that a newly negotiated pact may be in sight that will put Iran under more pressure on missile programs and other regional issues. A new agreement was touted as "JCPOA +" – that is, like the original deal, but with more conditions attached.

Such an agreement could go further, Al-Saud believes, saying that a "JCPOA ++" deal could also try to address Iran's reported "arming of militias", be it the Houthis in Yemen or certain groups in Iraq or in Syria or Lebanon and even beyond. "

"And, of course, its ballistic missile and other armaments programs that (it) continue to wreak havoc in the region," Al-Saud added.

CNBC has asked Iranian officials to respond to Al Saud's comments and has yet to receive a response.

Saudi's foreign minister stressed his country's longstanding partnership with the United States and that he would work with any administration. Al-Saud, however, reiterated that Saudi Arabia should be a "partner in these discussions" in case the new president wants to reconnect with Iran.

"The problem with Iran is that it continues to believe in imposing its will in the region to export its revolution to its neighbors and beyond, and we have to deal with that," he said, speaking to NEOM's CNBC, a mega project and planned new city on the northwest coast of the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. This weekend, Saudi Arabia virtually welcomes world leaders to the summit of the Group of 20 (G-20) in Riyadh.

Regional rivalries

The neighbors Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in a decades-long struggle for regional dominance. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni majority country, while Iran has a Shiite Muslim majority.

Trump leaned against the allies of the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during his tenure, while his predecessor Barack Obama tried to normalize relations with Iran and create the nuclear deal. Trump's exit from the JCPOA was welcomed by American allies in the Gulf and widely viewed as a change in US policy in the region.

The USA & # 39; However, attitudes towards Iran could change with a new government. President-elect Joe Biden is hoping to reconnect with Iran in the White House, and re-entry into the nuclear deal is a top priority for his future administration. The Trump administration will continue to sanction Iran towards the end of its presidency, which could make Biden's rapprochement with Iran more difficult.

In the meantime, it might be more difficult to predict the new administration's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Criticizing human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia, Biden said he would reassess relations with the kingdom after threatening in 2019 to stop arms sales to the nation and, as he described it, make them the "pariah they are".

In October, to mark the two-year anniversary since the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, Biden went further on the development of relations between the US and Saudi Arabia. In a statement, he noted that "under a Biden Harris administration, we will rethink our relationship with the Kingdom, end US support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, and ensure America doesn't check its values ​​at the door." Sell ​​or buy weapons. " Oil."

"America's commitment to democratic values ​​and human rights will be a priority for our closest security partners," he added.

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Katherine Clark