Winds of change in the Middle East. Iran confirms ongoing dialogues with Saudi Arabia
The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia cut bilateral relations in 2016 over scandals over the execution of a Shiite cleric in Riyadh and statements by Saudi authorities on Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of regional powers. The international press has reported in recent weeks that Iran is holding talks with the Kingdom’s leadership to resolve the issues that hinder the normalization of relations between the two countries. This was confirmed earlier this week by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatib Zadeh, publicly acknowledging the existence of the negotiations.
“The easing of tensions between the two Muslim countries in the Persian Gulf region is in the interest of both nations and the region,” Khatib Zadeh told reporters.The ministry’s press secretary added that Tehran is making important efforts in the talks to resolve the problems between the two nations. The Iranian official’s statement follows an earlier refusal by Tehran to acknowledge that the talks were ongoing.
Not long before Khatib Zadeh’s announcement, the head of political planning at the Saudi Foreign Ministry, Rayed Krimly, said that Iran and Saudi Arabia are engaged in negotiations to reduce tensions in the region. In 2016, Saudi Arabia sentenced a prominent Shiite cleric to death, accused of meddling in the Kingdom’s internal affairs, and relations were cut off following the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran by an angry mob.
Saudi Arabia also claimed that Tehran would meddle in the affairs of other regional powers, including by supporting Yemen’s Houthi fighters, who are waging a war against the local government and the Saudi-led military coalition supporting it. Iran has always denied all allegations of meddling and has repeatedly called on the Persian Gulf countries to coexist peacefully and jointly resolve all regional conflicts and issues. So far, no Gulf state has responded to Tehran’s requests for cooperation.
In the same context, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, met the heir to the Saudi throne, Mohammed bin Salman, on the evening of Monday 10 May. The face-to-face, the first for at least four years, took place in Riyadh: the two discussed bilateral issues concerning what they called “brother countries”. The meeting follows the reconciliation of al Ula with which on January 5 Saudi Arabia decided to break the diplomatic isolation imposed (together with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain) on Qatar. A blockade against Doha formally due to the very heavy accusation of financing terrorism, but deeply linked to Qatar’s relations with Iran (product of sharing a huge gas reservoir) and to the visions attributable to political Islam that Qatar shares with Turkey; position opposed to maintaining the status quo conceived by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
The meeting between al Thani and bin Salman took place on the same day that the Turkish foreign minister was in Saudi Arabia – a visit that followed talks between the Turkish and Saudi leadership.