Top Iran diplomat says talks with Saudis could restore ties

Iran's foreign minister says talks with regional rival Saudi Arabia are continuing and could eventually restore diplomatic relations that were severed years ago

ByBASSEM MROUE Associated Press
January 13, 2023, 6:06 AM

BEIRUT -- Talks between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia are continuing and could eventually restore diplomatic relations that were severed years ago, Iran’s foreign minister said Friday.

Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters in Beirut that he met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud during a conference in Jordan last month. The meeting was the highest-level encounter between the two countries since they cut relations seven years ago.

Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is majority Shiite, have been at odds since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, but relations worsened after Riyadh in 2016 executed a leading Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, setting off protests in both countries and souring diplomatic relations. In Tehran, demonstrators set fire to the Saudi Embassy.

Direct talks were launched in April 2021, brokered by Iraq, in a bid to improve ties. The mere existence of a dialogue was seen as important, even if the only notable result so far has been Iran reopening the country’s representative office to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

“There was an agreement in our points of view to continue with the Saudi-Iran dialogue in what would eventually normalize relations between the two countries,” Amirabdollahian said about the December meeting in Jordan.

Amirabdollahian said the hope is that, eventually, we will reach an agreement on “reopening diplomatic missions and embassies in Riyadh and Tehran."

The Iranian diplomat also praised recent contacts between Syrian and Turkish officials saying such talks could positively impact both countries. Turkish and Syrian defense ministers held talks in Moscow in late December, the first ministerial-level meeting between Damascus and Ankara since relations broke down with the start of the Syrian civil war more than 11 years ago.

Turkey and Syria have been on opposing sides of the Syrian conflict, with Turkey backing rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. Damascus has also denounced Turkey’s hold over stretches of northern Syria seized in a series of military incursions since 2016 to drive away Kurdish rebels.

Assad's office released a statement Thursday following the Syrian president's meeting with Russian presidential envoy in Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, saying that the Moscow-backed talks should aim to “end occupation and the support of terrorism” — a reference to Turkey’s backing of insurgents in Syria.

Later Friday, the Iranian top diplomat held talks with Lebanese officials and also, separately, with the head of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, Hassan Nasrallah. Iran backs Hezbollah, which has been designated a terrorist group by the United States and Israel.

Hezbollah said in a statement that Nasrallah and Amirabdollahian discussed Israel's new, hard-line government and regional developments.

Meaanwhile, in the south, the Lebanese army said troops opened fire at an Israeli drone that had violated Lebanon's airspace. It gave no further details.

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