Saudi Defense Minister to Congress: ‘Iran Can’t Be Trusted’

Concerns mounting on Capitol Hill

Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince / AP
April 1, 2015

LAUSANNE, Switzerland—Saudi Arabia’s newly installed defense minister told members of Congress on a recent trip to the oil-rich nation that "Iran can’t be trusted," according to a readout of the meeting provided by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R., Fla.).

Buchanan, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, participated in a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the son of the newly crowned King Salman, to discuss regional issues and Iranian aggression.

When asked by Buchanan and other lawmakers present at the sit-down about the current talks with Iran—which have now passed their March 31 deadline—Salman called the tentative agreement disastrous for the region.

Salman "said Iran can’t be trusted," according to a readout provided by Buchanan following the hour-long meeting in Riyadh. "He questioned why we would be negotiating with the Iranians when they are responsible for growing tension in the Middle East."

One foreign policy analyst with extensive contacts in the Middle East told the Free Beacon that regional players are dismayed by the concessions that Washington is willing to make to Iran.

"Parties in the region are aghast. It literally seems like there’s nothing the Iranians could do that would convince the Americans Tehran is too hostile and untrustworthy to deal with," said the source.

Saudi Arabia has criticized the Obama administration’s dealings with Iran, vowing in recent days to pursue its own nuclear weapons program as an avenue to counter the Islamic Republic’s growing influence in the region.

Salman spoke in harsh terms when asked by Buchanan to explain his position on the negotiations.

"I asked the Prince what he thought about the discussions between the U.S. and Iran, and he responded that he doesn’t think the United States is taking the threat posed by Iran seriously," according to Buchanan. "He said the Saudis would also like more military assistance from the U.S. to combat Iran’s growing influence in the region."

Salman and his government are also concerned about ties between Iran and Russia. The two countries recently secured an arms pact that will provide Tehran with advanced weaponry as well as light water nuclear reactors.

As the talks between Western powers and Iran stretch past a self-imposed deadline with what the parties and sources consider insufficient progress, traditional U.S. allies such as the Saudis, Israel, and France are becoming increasingly exasperated with the Obama administration’s rush to procure an agreement they consider dangerous.

France’s expression of reservations about the administration’s stance and concessions prompted diplomatic retaliation from the White House.

Concerns also are mounting on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and a growing number of Democrats are worried that the United States is handing Iran the ability to produce a nuclear weapon.

"Accepting any agreement that leaves the door open to Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapon should be a non-starter," Buchanan said when asked to elaborate on his view of the ongoing talks. "No deal is better than a bad deal."

"The U.S. should stand strong against any regime that calls for death to America," he said. "It’s time to let the world know that America is serious about protecting its interests and its allies."

Sources close to leading lawmakers say that they have been shut out of the talks by the Obama administration, which is pushing to tie Congress’ hands.

One senior congressional aide familiar with Republican thinking on the negotiations recently told the Free Beacon that lawmakers are displeased by what is taking place in Switzerland.

"Quite frankly, people here are wondering what the f—k is going on," said the senior staffer, who would only speak on background. "Why, after a year of negotiations, are major, consequential issues like whether Iran can keep its stockpile of highly enriched uranium being debated just before the clock strikes midnight?"

Democrats are also beginning to have reservations about the deal, according to the source.

"The Iranians seem to be successfully capitalizing on the fact that the administration is in dire desperation mode to get a deal," the source said. "Even the president’s most loyal Democrats in Congress are finding it near-impossible to defend what appears to be a worse deal than anyone ever imagined."