UAE Official Says US in Driver’s Seat for Stronger Iran Deal

DUBAI, April 15 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s negotiators should use leverage gained against Iran by the previous U.S. administration to reach a better nuclear deal with Tehran in talks in Vienna, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington said.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia had supported former President Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to quit the 2015 accord between Iran and world powers and reimpose harsh sanctions on their foe.

“You (U.S.) are essentially in the driver’s seat to get to a point to where we can address what I believe were shortcomings in JCPOA,” envoy Yousef Al Otaiba said in a virtual discussion with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution on Wednesday, using an acronym for the deal.

He listed the shortcomings as the deal’s duration, that it did not address Iran‘s missiles programme and support for regional proxies and that it still allowed uranium enrichment.

“Why do they get to have enrichment that can ultimately lead them to a militarised programme, whereas your partners and allies … did a nuclear programme without enrichment, without reprocessing?” he said.

The UAE has launched a nuclear power plant and Saudi Arabia also has plans for commercial nuclear power reactors.

Some U.S. lawmakers want the United States to insist that Riyadh agree to a so-called gold standard that restricts enrichment and reprocessing, potential pathways to making fissile material for nuclear weapons. The United States struck such an agreement with the UAE in 2009.

“Let’s say you go back into JCPOA, what prevents any country in the future in the region that comes up to the U.S. and says ‘I want the same deal that the Iranians got?’,” Otaiba said.

“Precedence is important. There is leverage today that you didn’t have in 2015, the region looks different, the dynamics are different,” he said, mentioning U.S.-brokered deals last year that saw the UAE and Bahrain normalise ties with Israel.

Saudi Arabia has also called for a deal with stronger parameters and a longer duration, and a Saudi official told Reuters that any revival of the deal should be a starting point for expanded talks that include Gulf states.

The Riyadh-based Gulf Cooperation Council said it stressed the need for Gulf involvement in ongoing negotiations in letters sent to global powers on Wednesday, state media reported.

(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean)

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