Apr 27, 2022 - World

Inside the talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia

An Iranian flag. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images
An Iranian flag. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

Iran and Saudi Arabia resumed official talks in Baghdad last week, despite the ongoing political deadlock in Iraq and Riyadh's crackdown on Shiite opposition.

Why it matters: The talks were put on hold last November pending the formation of a new government in Baghdad. Iran last month also postponed a meeting after Saudi Arabia executed dozens of Shiite dissidents.

Flashback: Saudi Arabia cut off relations with Iran in January 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed Saudi diplomatic facilities in Tehran over Riyadh’s execution of dissident Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Driving the news: The fifth round of talks between senior Iranian and Saudi security and intelligence officials last Thursday was focused on two key challenges: the normalization of ties and the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

  • Tehran has pressed for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies. Riyadh wants more practical action first.

State of play: Saudi Arabia agreed to allow Iran to reopen its embassy in Riyadh, but only for activities related to the Jeddah-based Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

  • The two sides decided to “send a delegation to each country within the next 30 days to discuss the reopening of embassies,” a source familiar with the talks in the region told Amwaj.media.
  • Saudi Arabia also agreed to reportedly allow 40,000 Iranians to enter the kingdom for the annual hajj pilgrimage in July.

The big picture: The main priority for Saudi Arabia is its war against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. After seven years of fighting, the Houthis are launching attacks as deep as Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

  • In early April, the UN announced a two-month ceasefire in Yemen in exchange for seaborne fuel deliveries to the besieged port of Hodeida and selected commercial flights to Sana’a.

During last week's talks, Saudi officials expressed disappointment with Iran’s role in Yemen and stressed that Tehran should be more active in facilitating an extension, sources said.

  • Iran expressed positivity over the truce but stressed that practical steps need to be taken to move toward sustainable peace.

Between the lines: Saudi Arabia has shifted its regional policies over the past year amid the cooling of ties with the U.S. after the Biden administration came to office.

  • Iran’s conservative government is keen on showing that it prioritizes relations with neighbors regardless of the state of the 2015 nuclear deal, which remains on life support.

What’s next: Iranian and Saudi officials will reconvene in Baghdad “in the coming weeks." Prior to that session, there will be another lower-level meeting between the parties in Oman.

  • Iranian state media has asserted that given the “constructive dialogue,” it is possible that a meeting between the foreign ministers will be held.

But, but, but: The current “constructive atmosphere” will to a large extent rely on progress over Yemen, including an extension of the truce and moves toward peace talks.

Mohammad Ali Shabani is the editor of Amwaj.media.

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