Saudi Arabia Says Iran Accord First Step in Ending Nuclear Plans

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, said Iran’s accord with world powers was a “first step” in preventing the country from developing nuclear weapons.

The agreement is a “step toward reaching a comprehensive resolution to the Iranian nuclear program,” the official Saudi Press Agency said today, citing a statement after the kingdom’s weekly cabinet meeting. The Middle East and Gulf region should be “free of all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons,” it said.

The accord signed in Geneva yesterday was the first major breakthrough since 2003 in the deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program. The dispute has raised concerns about a nuclear arms race in the oil-rich region and deepened the rift between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s leading Sunni power, and Shiite-ruled Iran are fighting a proxy war in Syria, backing opposite sides in the civil war.

Brent crude led energy prices lower after the interim accord, sliding as much as 2.7 percent in the first decline for four days.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions added to concerns among the Sunni Gulf states that the Islamic Republic was seeking to dominate the region, which holds three-fifths of the world’s oil supplies. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of fomenting unrest among Shiites in Bahrain and elsewhere in the Gulf. King Abdullah urged the U.S. to attack Iran to “cut off the head of the snake,” American diplomats reported in cables released by WikiLeaks in 2010.

Never Expected

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies never expected that Iran would agree to dismantle its nuclear program, as Israel has demanded, and they’ll be satisfied with a deal that “makes sure Iran will not be capable of developing nuclear military capabilities,” Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva, said in a phone interview today.

He said the problem for Saudi leaders may come over Syria, where Iran has helped to prop up President Bashar al-Assad’s government, because “I’m not sure how much pressure can be put on Iran after this.”

Under the deal, Iran must improve cooperation with United Nations monitors, neutralize its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent levels, and halt work on some of its nuclear installations. In return, it will be allowed to repatriate some frozen assets and resume trade in gold, autos and petrochemicals.

Saudi Arabia, a longtime American ally, is more concerned about a shift in Gulf power balances than the nuclear issue, Khalid al-Dakhil, a political sociologist in Riyadh, said by phone.

‘Political Aspect’

“There’s going to be a political aspect of this new relationship between the U.S. and Iran,” he said.“It’s about the Iranian role in the region.”

Saudi Arabia has called for Middle Eastern countries to be allowed to develop nuclear power for peaceful means, and plans to produce electricity from its own first nuclear plant by 2020. The kingdom may spend $100 billion to build 17 nuclear reactors over the coming two decades, the Saudi Press Agency reported last year.

The Iranian nuclear agreement may “ensure the right of all countries in the region” to pursue atomic energy for peaceful means, the cabinet said today.

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