Jul 29, 2021, 12:09 PM
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Tehran, Riyadh gradually mending ties following meditation efforts

Tehran, IRNA – Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which caused them to severe ties for more than five years, are gradually easing thanks to meditation efforts by regional countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Oman and Qatar.

Holding bilateral negotiations as well as announcements by Iranian officials are some of the signs showing that relations are getting improved between Tehran and Riyadh. 

The two sides cut their ties in 2016. The relations remained severed until last year when Donald Trump was defeated in US presidential election by Joe Biden. After Biden took over the White House in January this year, he made changes in US Mideast policies, including cutting the number of American military forces in West Asia. With these changes happening and progress being made in talks over the revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Saudi officials changed course too. 

The change in approach of the Al Saud was evident in the conciliatory tone they took, which contrasted with their previous stance. On April 28 this year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, to an interview question on the possible resumption of ties with Tehran, said: "Iran is a neighboring state of Saudi Arabia, and we hope to have good relations with it." Bin Salman also said: “We have interests in Iran and they have interests in the Kingdom to propel the region and the world to growth and prosperity.”

His remarks were welcomed by Iranian officials. At that time, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, to a question on Bin Salman’s remarks, said: "By taking a constructive and dialog-based approach, Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are two important countries in the region and the Muslim world, can resolve their differences and enter a new era of cooperation to improve regional peace and stability."

The change in tone by the two sides was also the result of the meditation efforts by certain countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Qatar and Oman. 

Pakistan played a significant role, with its Prime Minister Imran Khan making great efforts to improve Iran-Saudi relations. In an interview with International TV Channel Al Jazeera last year, Imran Khan said that his country had made every effort to prevent a military escalation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and that those efforts were successful. Khan also said: “Our mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia has not stopped and we are making progress but slowly.” 

To that aim, Imran Khan visited Iran twice in 2019, with one of his trips taking place after a visit to the US where he had met with the then president, Trump. Khan had also paid a visit to Saudi Arabia. 

Qatar is another country that welcomes to meditate between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Qatari Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Lolwah Al-Khater, in an interview with Russian news agency Sputnik in June this year said that her country is ready to play a mediatory role between regional powers to achieve peace and stability. On another question on the possibility of mediating between Riyadh and Tehran, Al-Khater said the matter “was not raised, but Qatar welcomes” that. 

Earlier this year, Qatar called on Persian Gulf Arab countries to engage in talks with Iran and announced its readiness to mediate such negotiations.     

To this date, Iraq has made the most fruitful efforts to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In March this year, UK-based daily Financial Times citing a source reported that Iraq had hosted direct talks between senior Iranian and Saudi officials to mend their ties. That report was later confirmed by officials in Tehran and Riyadh. The same source had said the talks were facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi following his meeting with the Saudi crown prince in Riyadh a month earlier. 

Some informed sources believe that Iraq began to play a mediatory role in response to a demand by Saudi Arabia. A news report by Middle East Eye in May this year cited informed sources as saying that the first phone call Al-Kadhimi received after becoming the prime minister of Iraq was from Bin Salman who had demanded him mediate between Riyadh and Tehran. 

Many observers have described the Iranian-Saudi negotiations as helpful. Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiee during a press briefing on July 6 hailed the progress made in those negotiations, but added that some issues are complicated and need time to be resolved. 

Now, some news reports say the next round of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia are likely to take place in Oman’s capital Muscat, instead of Baghdad. Oman has traditionally played a mediatory role in the region and previously hosted negotiations that led to the Iran nuclear deal. 

Earlier in July, Oman King Haitham bin Tariq Al Said visited Saudi Arabia for talks with officials there. Observers believe that Iran has been one of the topics of the talks, as Oman is trying to converge Iran’s stance with that of Saudi Arabia. They argue that discussions are currently taking place between Tehran and Riyadh and a final agreement on the Iran nuclear deal remains the most important issue. 

Now, eyes are on the new Iranian administration that will soon take office to see how it will proceed with the current measures to defuse tensions with Riyadh. Following the election of Ebrahim Raisi as the new Iranian president, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said Riyadh would judge its ties with Tehran based on realities in Iran. Nevertheless, observers expect that the ongoing detente will continue in the future.

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