US Official says US diplomacy with Iran benefits Saudi Arabia

America’s secret diplomacy with Iran was in Saudi Arabia’s best ‘interest’, says US official

As Saudi Arabia vents its fury over being kept in the dark, the State Department says that breaking the impasse over Iran’s nuclear ambitions justified the secrecy.

David Blair By David Blair6:05PM GMT 19 Dec 2013

America took a “fundamental decision” to exclude Saudi Arabia from its diplomacy towards Iran – and the “outcome” served the kingdom’s best “interests”, a senior State Department official has said.

Secret talks between the US and Iran preceded last month’s agreement in Geneva which imposed formal limits on Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Saudi Arabia, a bitter rival of Iran, has vented its fury over being shut out and publicly accused America of endangering the “stability and security of the Middle East”. Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, the Saudi Ambassador to Britain, denounced the agreement with Iran as a “dangerous gamble, about which we cannot remain silent”.

The US official acknowledged that Saudi Arabia was “completely unhappy – to put it mildly – that they weren’t in the loop”. But the fact that America and Iran were talking was “closely held” information even within the US administration.

The meetings, held in Oman, began when Hassan Rouhani took office as Iran’s president in August. America deliberately kept Saudi Arabia and its other Gulf allies in the dark. “There was a fundamental decision made that that was the best way to do it,” said the official. This was the surest way of achieving the “fundamental goal” of settling the confrontation over Iran’s ambitions.

In the aftermath of the Geneva agreement, Saudi Arabia had been told that the “outcome is in your interests”, added the diplomat. This deal reduced the risk of another war in the Middle East which was the “last thing” that Saudi Arabia “would have wanted”.

The kingdom has threatened to retaliate for its exclusion. In response, the diplomat said that US officials had asked “what are the things that the Saudis could do”? The answer was that “we don’t see the capacity” for Saudi Arabia to hit back.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, visited Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah on Nov 4. During this meeting, the King “expressed satisfaction” with America’s position, said the official, and told Mr Kerry not to “worry” about the “complaints we hear in public” from Saudi diplomats.

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