Saudi foreign minister hopeful over talks with Iran but no substantial change expected

Rare comment from Prince Faisal bin Farhan on closely guarded discussions

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud in Paris. AFP 
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud in Paris. AFP 

Saudi Arabia is hopeful after exploratory talks with Iran, its foreign minister said.

The official-level discussions aim to restore relations severed five years ago between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

"We have initiated some exploratory talks," Prince Faisal bin Farhan said in Paris on Tuesday, where he is participating in two international summits. "They are at a very early stage but we are hopeful."

The talks with Iran, facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, were secret until the Financial Times newspaper reported that a meeting was held in Baghdad on April 9.

The Iranian government confirmed only on May 10 that the talks were held but that it was "too soon" to discuss the results.

"If [the Iranians] can see that their interest is in a good relationship with their neighbours, I can be hopeful," Prince Faisal said.

Asked what the effect of the June presidential elections in Iran might be, he said he thought it would be minimal.

"Our understanding of Iran's foreign policy is that it's set by the supreme leader," he said. "So we don't think there will be a substantial change. There may be a change in the representatives that portray that policy, but in the end, it's what happens on the ground that matters, and that is driven by the supreme leader."

The countries cut ties in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions after the kingdom's execution of a revered Shiite cleric.

The regional rivals back opposite sides in several regional conflicts, from Syria to Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in support of the internationally recognised government.

But in April, Saudi Arabia's crown prince struck a conciliatory tone, saying he sought good relations.

The tentative initiative comes at a time of shifting power dynamics as US President Joe Biden is seeking to revive the tattered 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Updated: May 19, 2021 10:04 AM

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