Iraq has invited Iran and Gulf Arab countries to a summit in Baghdad in the hopes of defusing tensions that have pushed them dangerously near to a war in recent years.
Officials say the summit, which will also include the war in Yemen, Lebanon’s political and economic collapse, and a regional water issue, could be a step toward Saudi-Iranian reconciliation, though they have not announced who will attend.
Long-standing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran intensified after a 2019 attack on Saudi oil plants that temporarily shut down half of the country’s oil production. Riyadh blamed Iran for the strike, which Tehran denies.
The two countries are aligned with opposing factions fighting in Yemen, and their connections were broken in 2016. However, they restarted direct discussions in Iraq in April of this year.
Saudi Arabia sees engagement as a way to reduce tensions without abandoning its security worries about attacks it blames on Iran and its supporters, as the Biden administration has reopened nuclear talks that could lead to a lifting of sanctions on Tehran.
Iraqi officials expect Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s new president, to attend the summit on Saturday, as well as ministers from Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“Even if we bring the foreign ministers together at one table, this could be considered a breakthrough to end the tensions between Iranians and the Gulf Arabs,” an official close to Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said.
Iraq, which hosted the private meetings between Saudi and Iranian officials earlier this year, had gotten “positive signals” from Tehran and Gulf Arab countries that they were ready for more direct talks, according to a politician close to the prime minister.
Three additional regional sources said they expect further direct meetings between Iranian and Saudi officials on the sidelines of the summit, but that no breakthrough is expected.
“We have always welcomed improving ties with regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, and it is a priority of our President Raisi’s foreign policy. Whether this will happen in Iraq next week, I seriously doubt it,” said a senior Iranian official.