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On Eve Of Trump-Saudi Meeting, Riyadh Calls Iran Nuclear Deal Flawed

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, October 24, 2017
WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia called the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers a "flawed agreement" on Monday, on the eve of a meeting between the Saudi crown prince and U.S. President Donald Trump who have both been highly critical of Iran.

"Our view of the nuclear deal is that it's a flawed agreement," Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Washington.

The meeting between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump comes at a time when Riyadh and Washington have been strengthening their relationship after tensions under the previous U.S. administration, in part over Iran.

Jubeir called out Iran for what Riyadh has long slammed as Tehran's destabilizing behavior in the region. "We've called for tougher policies towards Iran for years," Jubeir said.

"We're looking at ways in which we can push back against Iran's nefarious activities in the region," Jubeir said, lambasting Tehran's support for the Houthi militia in Yemen and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Iran denies interference in the region's affairs.

Saudi Arabia had viewed with unease the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, whom they felt considered Riyadh’s alliance with Washington less important than negotiating the Iran nuclear deal.

It is first visit by Mohammed bin Salman, or MbS as he is known in Western circles, to the United States since he became heir apparent. He will meet Trump on Tuesday at the White House as well as senior administration officials.

The crown prince is also due to meet with members of Congress, some of whom have been critical of the Saudi campaign in Yemen, particularly the humanitarian situation and civilian casualties. In his meetings with business, industry and entertainment leaders, the prince is aiming to cultivate investments and political support.

Jubeir lauded the U.S.-Saudi relationship at an "all time high." Any visit to the New York Stock Exchange will be watched closely by investors because of the potentially lucrative listing of up to 5 percent of Saudi Aramco expected later this year.

Sources close to the process said the kingdom is increasingly looking to just float the oil giant locally as plans for an initial public offering on an international exchange such as New York or London appear to be receding.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said recently that Aramco was too important to risk listing in the United States because of litigation concerns, such as existing lawsuits against rival oil companies for their role in climate change.

The crown prince is also likely to reiterate to Washington the view of Saudi Arabia that its regional arch-rival, Iran, should not be trusted given its nuclear program.

Under a deal reached with major powers including the United States in 2015, Tehran curbed its enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel, a process that can also yield atomic bombs, in exchange for a removal of tough international sanctions.

Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European powers on Jan. 12, saying they must agree to “fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal” or he would refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran that it calls for.