‘We Are Serious:’ Saudi Foreign Minister Sounds Optimistic Note On Negotiations With Iran
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister sent a clear signal to Iran on Friday that the Gulf Kingdom is serious about mending relations between the two bitter rivals.
In an interview with the Financial Times, foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud that the talks conducted with Iran during this year had been “cordial,” while describing the negotiations as “exploratory.”
The Saudis have held four rounds of talks with Iran since April, including a first meeting last month with the government of new hardline president Ebrahim Raisi.
Saudi Arabia and Iran cut diplomatic ties in 2016, in the wake of the ransacking of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran by a mob enraged by Riyadh’s execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a leading Shi’a Muslim cleric. In the intervening period, the tensions with Iran caused a major shift in Saudi foreign policy, as the Tehran regime was identified as the main threat to the Kingdom’s security. The brutal proxy war in Yemen between the two countries has fueled the recent speculation that Saudi Arabia would follow the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, its neighbors in the Gulf, by making a historic peace deal with Israel.
Foreign Minister al-Saud told the FT that “[W]e are serious about the talks.”
He continued: “For us it’s not that big a shift. We’ve always said we want to find a way to stabilize the region.”
While full diplomatic relations between the two countries are yet to be restored, the FT quoted an unnamed Saudi official confirming that a request from Iran to reopen its consulate in Jeddah was under consideration.
The same official commented that Iran’s current diplomatic efforts were aimed at reviving the JCPOA — the 2015 agreement over Tehran’s nuclear program between Iran and six world powers led by the US. The JCPOA was severely undermined when former US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 — a decision that was effusively welcomed by the Saudis at the time. The current administration of President Joe Biden is now exploring ways of reviving the deal.
“Especially to the West, they are signaling that ‘look, we have resolved our issues with the Saudis and any lingering things we can work out together so don’t talk to us about regional security’,” the Saudi official said. “‘Treat us like a normal country and let’s do this [nuclear] deal.’”
Last month, Iran gave its own positive account of the talks with the Saudis.
Speaking during the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told the regime’s official news agency, IRNA, that “remarkable progress” had been made with the Saudis.
Al-Saud also met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on Friday, calling it in a Twitter post a “productive” exchange on issues of “common interest and concern.”