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Friday, October 22, 2021

Iran, Saudi Arabia double down on Baghdad talks to ease tensions


The meetings between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Baghdad aim to ease tensions between the two regional powers.

Delegations from Iran and Saudi Arabia met in Baghdad for a fourth round of talks this year amid ongoing efforts to ease regional tensions.

The talks are the first in months and come following the election of Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi.

A spokesperson from Iran’s foreign ministry said Iran has had more regular contact with Saudi Arabia since Raisi took office in the last few months.

“There have been good discussions on bilateral issues & good progress on Persian Gulf security. Since president Raisi taking office, messages have been exchanged at an appropriate level,” said the spokesperson. 

The meetings in Iraq would be the first serious attempt at discourse following years of strained relations between the two regional powers.

Sources in Baghdad have revealed that the agenda is centered on efforts to repair bilateral relations and discuss regional issues concerning both parties.

In May, Iran confirmed “bilateral and regional” talks with Saudi Arabia following reports by the Financial Times regarding discreet meetings between the two countries. Those were reportedly brokered by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

This was part of Al-Kadhimi’s efforts towards a more integrated region as well as strengthening Iraq’s role as a regional mediator.

In August, Tehran confirmed it would continue to negotiate with rival state Saudi Arabia despite denying reports over meetings at the Baghdad summit at the time.

However, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh then said three rounds of talks between the two countries took place in the past and noted more would be held if necessary.

US threatens action as Iran denies access to nuclear inspectors

The kingdom cut off relations with the Islamic Republic in 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed Saudi diplomatic sites following Riyadh’s execution of popular Muslim scholar Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Strained relations were only further exasperated following the election of former US president Donald Trump who openly favoured Riyadh’s leadership in the context of its confrontation with Tehran.

In January, Iran’s former foreign minister welcomed an invitation by his Qatari counterpart to hold “inclusive dialogue in the region.” Iran has looked favourably at Doha’s efforts to deescalate tensions between major players in the region.

Heavyweight mediator Qatar has been heavily engaged in liaising between warring factions in recent years.

Among the most important files it the the Iran nuclear deal, with the Gulf state continuously reiterating the importance of returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] following the US withdrawal in 2018.

“There is no solution to differences and differences in views with Iran except through rational dialogue on the basis of mutual respect, and this applies to the issue of returning to the nuclear agreement with Iran,” Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said during the United Nations General Assembly in New York earlier this week.

Qatar had previously said it will “spare no efforts” in ensuring the 2015 nuclear agreement is restored. Members of the accord are currently engaging in efforts to resume indirect Vienna talks between Iran and the US.

“I do not think that anyone has an alternative to this approach, including those who oppose returning to the agreement,” added Sheikh Tamim.

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