On Monday, it was indicated that the talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two arch-rivals in the region, have been maintained in a conducive atmosphere. The statement was made by Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh.
Speaking at a weekly press briefing conference, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh commented on ongoing Saudi-Iran talks. In his speech, Khatibzadeh reiterated his country’s wishes to reach an understanding with Saudi Arabia.
“We hope that the talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia will end successfully,” he added.
The Iranian high diplomat also announced that his country had reached an agreement, the first of its kind, about the upcoming pilgrimage season.
In fact, some reports regarding the Saudi-Iranian secret talks had initially started to circulate in international media outlets in early April. The Financial Times (FT) reported that Saudi Arabia and Iran held secret talks in Baghdad through the mediation of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. Quoting from a diplomatic source who was involved in the negotiations, FT indicated that the first round of talks was positive.
When the Iranian spokesperson was asked about the aforementioned report, he contented himself with saying that “any dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran would be in the interest of the two countries’ people as well as the region,” and refrained from comments neither confirming nor denying the talks.
On the other hand, the first official signals of rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran came when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman stated firsthand that his country seeks “a good and distinguished relationship with Iran” in a televised interview in late April.
Following days of silence amid the lack of official statements regarding the talks between the two sides, Iraqi President Barham Salih affirmed that his country had hosted Saudi-Iranian talks in Baghdad more than once. Then, both Saudi and Iranian foreign ministries released statements confirming the existence of negotiations. First, the head of policy planning at the Saudi Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Rayed Krimly, made statements affirming the existence of the talks and said that the main aim is to reduce tension between the two countries. Then, Iranian high diplomat Khatibzadeh confirmed the speculation regarding the talks and highlighted his country’s commitment to do its best to resolve the issues between the two rivals.
The relations between the two regional rivals were severed in 2016 following an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran over the execution of Nimr Al Nimr, a Shia cleric, by Saudi authorities. Since then, the two countries have frequently come face to face in regional conflicts. The ongoing civil war in Yemen epitomizes the rivalry between the two sides, with two countries giving support to opposing sides in the conflict.
Given the reasons that pave the way for rapprochement between the two old arch-rivals of the region, it is seen that the administration change in the United States comes into prominence. Many analysts consider that Saudi Arabia lost its biggest support in Washington through the Biden administration taking office. Biden’s statements regarding the relations with Saudi Arabia and his initial moves, including the release of an intelligence report about the killing of Saudi dissident columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the end of US support for Saudi operations in Yemen, vindicated these considerations. These moves coming from the US raised concerns within Saudi Arabia and pushed the Kingdom to recalibrate its approach towards Washington. In this sense, Riyadh launched several initiatives to resolve the conflicts with its neighbors. Rapprochement with Iran and peace attempts in Yemen stand out as two embodiments of this approach.
Apart from this, it can be said that the shift in the US policy, prioritizing the security in the Indo-Pacific region, and the relative US withdrawal from the Middle East in conjunction with this shift, is another factor that pushes both Saudi Arabia and Iran to negotiate in mending the differences between each other. From the Iranian perspective, it can be speculated that Tehran would like to capitalize on the administration change in Washington on its own behalf. Contrary to the former administration under Donald Trump, Joe Biden prefers to handle issues with Iran through diplomacy. Ongoing indirect talks in the Austrian capital, Vienna, where the negotiations have been maintained to revive the 2015 nuclear deal and ensure the US’ return to the agreement, can be evaluated within this framework.
However, despite the fact that the talks between Riyadh and Tehran are ongoing in a positive atmosphere, it should not be forgotten that many other issues waiting for closure still remain on the table.