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Home / Politics / News /  Saudi crown prince tours gulf as Iran nuclear talks stall

Saudi crown prince tours gulf as Iran nuclear talks stall

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Mohammed bin Salman aims to build consensus against Tehran in first regional tour since the pandemic

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DUBAI : Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman embarked on a rare tour of the Persian Gulf region in a bid to shore up his position with neighboring allies and build consensus on the threat posed by rival Iran as world powers hold talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman embarked on a rare tour of the Persian Gulf region in a bid to shore up his position with neighboring allies and build consensus on the threat posed by rival Iran as world powers hold talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

Prince Mohammed, the de facto Saudi ruler, arrived in Oman on Monday for talks with the country’s ruler. His trip includes stops in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar for the first time since Riyadh and its regional allies resolved a dispute with Doha earlier this year.

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Prince Mohammed, the de facto Saudi ruler, arrived in Oman on Monday for talks with the country’s ruler. His trip includes stops in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar for the first time since Riyadh and its regional allies resolved a dispute with Doha earlier this year.

The trips come after talks in Vienna to salvage the nuclear deal between Iran, the US and other world powers stalled last week. The Gulf states aren’t eager for military confrontation with Tehran, but worry that even if world powers agree a deal, Iran’s support for armed groups across the region and its deployment of drones and ballistic missiles will continue to endanger their security.

Yemen and other topics such as investments, food security and trade will also be discussed ahead of a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes the six Gulf countries, later this month in Riyadh, according to Gulf officials.

Saudi Arabia is struggling to exit from the war in Yemen, where it leads an Arab military coalition that intervened in 2015 to prop up the internationally-recognized government after Houthi rebels aligned with Iran seized the capital. It is seeking to ensure support from Gulf allies as the Houthis gain new ground including around the strategic oil-rich city of Marib near the Saudi border.

The U.S. has encouraged its Gulf partners to project a united front on key issues like Iran, which has gained new urgency amid concern in the region that Washington is disengaging to focus on China. But the Arab monarchies have struggled to come together in the face of divergent national interests. While Iran and Saudi Arabia are rivals, Tehran has deep business ties with the U.A.E. and shares the world’s biggest gas field with Qatar. Less powerful Kuwait and Oman have long tried to stay out of conflicts, which has also allowed them to often help mediate regional disputes.

Separately, the U.A.E.’s national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed al Nahyan, met Monday in Tehran with President Ebrahim Raisi, becoming the most senior Emirati official to publicly visit the Islamic Republic in eight years. That follows last week’s meeting in Ankara between Abu Dhabi’s crown prince and Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan, as the U.A.E. looks to de-escalate tensions with regional rivals.

Sheikh Tahnoun invited Mr. Raisi to visit Abu Dhabi to mark a new chapter in the countries’ relations, Iranian state television reported. The state-run Emirates News Agency said they had exchanged views on issues of common interest.

The Tehran trip “is a serious attempt to engage Iran and reach out to the new administration in Tehran," said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent Emirati political scientist. “But it is not going to change the fact that Iran remains the constant threat to Gulf security."

Prince Mohammed’s Gulf tour marks the first significant foreign travel for the Saudi leader since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Besides a brief trip to Egypt, he has largely been holed up at a palace on the site of a futuristic city in northwest Saudi Arabia or on his yacht nearby in the Red Sea.

He also hasn’t visited the U.S. or Europe since 2018, when the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by government operatives led some Western governments to shun him. A visit Saturday by French President Emmanuel Macron was the first trip to the kingdom by a major Western leader since the killing, which the prince has denied ordering. On Sunday, at the start of his high-profile week, Prince Mohammed attended a Formula One race in the coastal city of Jeddah, where stars, including Justin Bieber, performed.

A Gulf official with knowledge of Prince Mohammed’s tour called it “making a statement" about Saudi Arabia’s regional leadership. Crafting a unified stance toward Iran would be on the table, the official noted.

Just ahead of Prince Mohammed’s visit to Qatar on Wednesday, Mr. Erdogan will also visit the country to discuss Turkey’s relationship with the Gulf, according to Qatari officials. “Both Erdogan and MBS have expressed to the Qatari emir that they want to have stronger ties and restore trade," a senior Qatari adviser said.

 

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