Iran has for the first time confirmed that it is holding talks with its bitter regional rival Saudi Arabia, saying that de-escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf is in the interest of both nations and the region.
“There have been talks and they have been about bilateral and regional issues,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said at news conference on May 10.
Khatibzadeh said it was “too soon” to discuss the results, insisting that Tehran has always welcomed talks with the Saudis “in any form and at any level.”
Iraqi President Barham Salih on May 5 said his country had hosted at least two rounds of talks between Iranian and Saudi representatives, calling the discussions “important and significant.”
The talks, said to have taken place in Baghdad last month, were the first high-level meeting between the two sides since Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2016.
Last week, the head of policy planning at Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters that it was too early to judge the outcome of the process, which he said was aimed at reducing regional tensions.
The Sunni-ruled kingdom and Shi’ite majority Iran have been locked in a rivalry that has played out in proxy conflicts across the region, from Yemen to Syria.
However, Saudi and Iranian officials have recently softened their language and said they were prepared for reconciliation.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has said Riyadh sought a “good and special relationship” with Tehran if Tehran ended its “negative behavior.”
Analyst say Saudi Arabia appears to be shifting its regional policies in response to the change of administration in Washington, which has brought renewed criticism of Riyadh’s human rights record and regional policies.
Former President Donald Trump pursued a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran and generally supported Saudi policies.
But his successor, President Joe Biden, is seeking to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran abandoned by his predecessor, and has signaled impatience with the Saudi-led war in Yemen against Iran-aligned Huthi rebels.