Saudi Arabia holds fresh round of talks with Iranian government

Meeting took place on September 21 coinciding with President Raisi's speech at UNGA

Saudi Arabia confirmed on Sunday it held a round of direct talks with Iran's new government last month, part of a process begun earlier this year to reduce tension between the Gulf rivals.

Saudi Arabia and Iran began talks in April, at a time when Washington and Tehran were discussing reviving a nuclear pact that Riyadh and its allies had opposed.

Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said the latest round had taken place on September 21.

The date coincides with a speech by Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi at the UN General Assembly in New York.

“These discussions are still in the exploratory phase. We hope they will provide a basis to address unresolved issues between the two sides and we will strive and work to realise that," he said in Riyadh during a joint press conference with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Prince Faisal was speaking during a visit to Riyadh by Mr Borrell, who said he had briefed his partners on the prospects for restarting the nuclear talks.

Saudi authorities did not disclose the location of the meeting with Iranian officials, or the level of representation, while Mr Borrell welcomed the talks.

Riyadh and Tehran have both said they hope the talks can ease tensions, while playing down expectations of a major diplomatic breakthrough. Iran did not immediately comment on the September 21 round of talks.

Iraqi sources said last month that officials from both countries had met recently in Baghdad.

The discussions, hosted by Iraq as it seeks to act as a regional mediator, were launched under Iran's former, moderate president Hassan Rouhani, who was replaced in August by Mr Raisi.

The talks have led to “serious progress” regarding Gulf security, Tehran's foreign ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said on September 23.

Riyadh has said it would judge the government of Mr Raisi by the reality on the ground.

Former US President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement under which Iran had accepted curbs to its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.

Tehran responded by breaching some of its terms.

Indirect talks involving the US and Iran on reviving that pact were put on hold in June and have yet to resume under Mr Raisi. Western powers have urged Iran to return to the negotiations.

Updated: October 4th 2021, 3:35 PM
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