April 20 Saudi and Iranian officials have met in the Iraqi capital Baghdad in recent weeks, an Iraqi government official and a Western diplomat have revealed.
Iraq promotes dialogue
An Iraqi government official confirmed to AFP that talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran began a few weeks ago. According to a Western diplomat, he had been “informed in advance” of the move, saying it would help “promote better relations … Reduce tensions.”
Saudi Arabia and Iran have long been at the same time. Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Iran five years ago after violence hit its embassies and consulates in Tehran, the capital, and Mashhad, the second-largest city. The talks, brokered by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Qadimi and aimed at restoring relations between the two countries, have been unknown, AFP reported. The Financial Times reported on the 18th that Saudi Arabia and Iran have completed the first round of talks in Baghdad on the 9th.
Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Sahaf told Russia’s satellite news agency on the 19th, the Iraqi government seeks to promote regional dialogue, that dialogue is “the only way to ease regional tensions.”
Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shiite-dominated Iran are at odds in regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen. The Saudi-led multinational coalition supports the Yemeni government in its fight against Houthi forces and has identified repeated attacks by Houthi forces on targets in Saudi Arabia as supported by Iran.
According to Agence France-Presse, Iraq is facing Iran to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, trying to play the role of mediator.
The Saudi government has previously denied talks with Iran through state media. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh also did not confirm the talks in Baghdad, but said Iran “always welcomes” dialogue with Saudi Arabia.
Sensitive issues to be discussed
Adel Bakawan, an analyst at France’s Mediterranean and Middle East Institute, said the Saudi delegation at the Baghdad talks was led by Khalid bin Ali al-Humaydan, the head of Saudi intelligence, and that Iran had sent ali Shamhani, secretary of the Country’s Supreme Security Council, to represent him.
Bakawan believes there are a series of thorny issues to be resolved between Saudi Arabia and Iran. For Saudi Arabia, the top issue is the Iranian nuclear issue and civilian forces in the Middle East, particularly those believed to be backed by Iran in Lebanon and Syria. Iran’s main concerns include the situation of Shiite residents in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi government’s “funding of radical violence in countries with Iranian influence”.
Saudi Arabia and Iran may now shy away from talks because of the sensitivity of their concerns. At the moment in Baghdad, Bakawan said, “a team from both delegations is discussing the technical details of all the issues.”
The talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran come as representatives of relevant parties to the comprehensive iran nuclear deal are holding talks in the Austrian capital Vienna, while U.S.-Saudi relations have “cooled” as new U.S. President Joseph Biden presses Saudi Arabia on human rights issues, AFP reported.