(Corrects title of Abdullah al-Askar to chairman of the foreign
affairs committee in the Shoura Council)
By Angus McDowall
RIYADH Nov 24 People in the Middle East will
lose sleep over a nuclear deal between global powers and Iran, a
Saudi foreign policy adviser said on Sunday, signalling the deep
unease Sunni Muslim Gulf states have over Western rapprochement
with their Shi'ite foe.
At the time the adviser spoke, Saudi Arabia had not
officially responded to news of the deal under which Western
countries will ease sanctions in return for curbs on Iran's
nuclear programme. Riyadh has frequently called for Washington
to maintain a tough line with Tehran.
Abdullah al-Askar, chairman of the foreign affairs committee
in Saudi Arabia's appointed Shoura Council, a quasi-parliament
that advises the government on policy, stressed that he had no
knowledge of his government's official response but was
"I am afraid Iran will give up something on [its nuclear
programme] to get something else from the big powers in terms of
regional politics. And I'm worrying about giving Iran more space
or a freer hand in the region," he said.
"The government of Iran, month after month, has proven that
it has an ugly agenda in the region, and in this regard no one
in the region will sleep and assume things are going smoothly,"
In the hours before Sunday's deal was sealed, Gulf Arab
leaders, including Saudi King Abdullah and the rulers of Qatar
and Kuwait, met late on Saturday night to discuss "issues of
interest to the three nations".
The Gulf Arab rulers, all Sunni Muslims, are enemies of
Shi'ite Iran, which backs Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in a
civil war in which they back the rebels. They have accused
Tehran of fomenting unrest in a range of countries including
Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon and Iraq. Iran denies such meddling.
"The people of the region know Iranian policies and Iranian
ambitions. And they know that Iran will interfere in the
politics of many countries in the region," Askar added.
In recent months Saudi Arabia has grown increasingly anxious
about Washington's apparent willingness to deal with Iran's new
President Hassan Rouhani and complained about President Barack
Obama's reluctance to take tougher action in Syria's civil war.
Robert Jordan, a former U.S. ambassador to Riyadh, said the
Saudis could be even more worried about Iran gaining influence
in the region than about it obtaining an atomic bomb.
"The deal may relieve the Saudis of having to worry they
would have to counter a nuclear threat from Iran, but it doesn't
counter their geopolitical worries which may be more profound,"
said Robert Jordan, U.S. ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03.
"This deal doesn't address the conduct of Iran with regard
to the Middle East and therefore may suggest a willingness to
reach broader accommodations with Iran that the Saudis would
view as not in their best interests," said Jordan.
Early this month Secretary of State John Kerry visited
Riyadh and said he had given assurances to King Abdullah and
others about U.S. talks with Iran, and pledged to keep Riyadh
abreast of developments "so that there are no surprises".
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at the time: "We
accept the assurance of the secretary that they will not allow
the development of weapons - of atomic weapons in Iran".
Askar said that if the deal did not succeed in preventing
Iran from building a bomb, Saudi Arabia and other countries
would probably seek one too.
"I think Saudi Arabia will go ahead if Iran goes ahead [and
gets a nuclear weapon]. I think Egypt, maybe Turkey, Saudi
Arabia, maybe the Emirates, would go ahead and acquire the same
technology. This will open the door widely to weaponisation."
(Reporting By Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean and