Saudi official: talks are being held with Iran to reduce regional tensions

A Saudi foreign ministry spokesman said it is premature to speculate on outcomes

A fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemen government holds a position near the frontline facing Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the country's north-eastern Marib province. Riyadh and Tehran are holding talks to reduce regional tensions. AFP
A fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemen government holds a position near the frontline facing Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the country's north-eastern Marib province. Riyadh and Tehran are holding talks to reduce regional tensions. AFP

A Saudi foreign ministry official said on Friday that Saudi Arabia and Iran were holding talks to reduce regional tensions but that it was too early to judge the outcome and Riyadh wanted to see "verifiable deeds".

The comments by Ambassador Rayed Krimly, head of policy planning at the ministry, were the first public confirmation from Riyadh that the rivals were holding direct talks.

"We hope they prove successful, but it is too early, and premature, to reach any definitive conclusions," Mr Krimly told Reuters.

Last month Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the kingdom was open to improving relations with Iran.

"Iran is a neighbouring state. We are seeking to have good relations with Iran," Prince Mohammed said.

"We have interests in Iran, we aim to see a prosperous Iran," he said in a television interview.

"We are working with our partners in the region to overcome our differences with Iran, especially with its support for militias and the development of its nuclear programme."

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said the kingdom is open to improving relations with Iran. AFP
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said the kingdom is open to improving relations with Iran. AFP

Iran responded to the crown prince's remarks by saying the two countries “can adopt constructive dialogue and overcome differences”.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Saudi Arabia and Iran are important countries in the Islamic world and “bilateral co-operation is important in ensuring security and stability in the region".

Government and diplomatic sources in Baghdad confirmed last month that Saudi and Iranian government officials held back-channel talks, below Cabinet level, in the Iraqi capital. Riyadh and Tehran denied that talks had taken place.

Iran, the US and Europe held a fourth round of high-level talks on Friday in Austria aimed at bringing the United States back into the nuclear deal with Iran, with both sides signalling a willingness to work out the major stumbling blocks.

President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the landmark 2015 deal in 2018. The deal had promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme, and the Trump administration reimposed heavy sanctions on the Islamic republic in an unsuccessful attempt to bring Tehran into new talks.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, is working in the region to solve one of the biggest points of contention between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Yemen. Just this week an American delegation led by US special envoy Tim Lenderking and Senator Chris Murphy met UN envoy Martin Griffiths in Oman as part of a diplomatic push for a ceasefire in Yemen.

Riyadh also signalled that it will be seeking Tehran's support to wind down its costly six-year military engagement in neighbouring Yemen, where Houthi rebels launched a campaign to seize the last northern government stronghold of Marib, and stepped up missile and drones strikes on the kingdom.

Updated: May 7, 2021 04:15 PM

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