Saudi Arabia plans for fresh round of talks with Iran: FM

Saudi Arabia is looking to schedule a fifth round of direct talks with Iran despite a “lack of substantive progress” in previous rounds, the kingdom’s foreign minister has said at the Munich Security Conference.

Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran in 2016 after its embassy in Tehran was stormed by protesters following the execution of Shia religious leader by Riyadh. The two regional powers launched talks last year hosted by Iraq.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said on Saturday that if the 2015 nuclear pact was revived that should be “a starting point, not an endpoint” in order to address regional concerns. Saudi Arabia has been critical of the deal for not tackling Tehran’s missiles programme.

“That will indeed require from our neighbours in Iran a serious desire to address the underlying issues that exist … We hope that there is a serious desire to find a new modus operandi,” he said.

“If we see substantive progress on those files, then yes, rapprochement is possible. So far, we have not seen that,” he told the Munich Security Conference.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shia Muslim Iran are locked in several proxy conflicts across the Middle East, including in Yemen. Riyadh has led an Arab coalition waging war against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen since 2015.

Tensions spiked in 2019

Tensions between the two countries spiked in 2019 after an assault on Saudi oil plants that Riyadh blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran has denied, and continue to simmer over Yemen.

Prince Faisal said Iran continued to provide the Houthis with ballistic missile and drone parts as well as conventional weapons, a charge both Tehran and Yemen’s Houthi group deny.

“This does not contribute to finding a path to settle that conflict, but we are committed and we are supportive of the United Nations representative,” he said, referring to stalled UN-led efforts for a ceasefire in Yemen.

Yemen’s grinding conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions, resulting in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Tehran and Riyadh have held four rounds of talks in Iraq, with Baghdad hoping its mediation would stop the neighbours seeking to settle scores on its territory. Saudi Arabia has described the talks as cordial but exploratory, while Tehran says they had gone a “good distance”.

Earlier this month Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Iran was ready for more talks with Saudi Arabia if Riyadh is willing to hold the talks in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect, the semi-official news agency Fars reported.

“Iran is ready to continue these negotiations until reaching an outcome, provided that the Saudis are willing to continue the negotiations in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect,” Fars quoted Raisi as saying in a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Riyadh and Tehran have said they hope the talks can ease tensions while playing down expectations of a significant diplomatic breakthrough.

The talks have led to “serious progress” regarding Gulf security, Tehran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said in September.

In a sign of a thaw in relations, Iran said last month that three Iranian diplomats arrived in Saudi Arabia to take up posts at the headquarters of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah.

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