Will the Saudi-Iran talks lead to any change in regional relationships?

Arabic-language commentators analyse the implications of closer contact between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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What the Arabic press is saying about the Saudi-Iranian diplomatic talks. Translated by Carla Mirza

Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal recently implied that changes will soon take place in political relations with Iran.

In an interview with Reuters, the Saudi minister was asked whether he was planning to invite the foreign minister of Iran or any other Iranian officials to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the near future to discuss regional events.

He replied that there were talks about the will to revive communication channels between the two countries. The Saudi government had invited the Iranian foreign minister to visit but this had not eventuated – although he added that “such a visit would be welcomed anytime”.

He added: “Iran is our neighbour and relations exist between us. We will negotiate and communicate with Iran, in the hope of overcoming any differences. That is in the interest of both countries.”

Abdel Rahman Al Rashed, former editor in chief of the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat, underlined the importance of any initiative that would open official channels of communication between Riyadh and Tehran.

“The statement made by the Saudi foreign minister is clear, the language used is amicable and it is an open invitation,” he observed.

“Prince Saud is known to be a precise diplomat, down to the use of full stops and commas. We do not truly know whether this statement is an answer to the reporter’s question or an invitation announcing new Saudi politics.

“It is quite difficult to gauge international relations based on statements, but we need not prove that relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are now at their worst point in the past 30 years.

“Both countries are now indirectly fighting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Bahrain and Lebanon,” he explained.

The writer expressed the view that Iran is not ready for reconciliation and is unlikely to be completely trusted with any promises made. Part of the problem, he said, is the internal conflict Iran has been undergoing.

“I very much doubt that Riyadh would change its politics only based on the fact that [former president] Sheikh Hashemi Rafsanjani urged it to do so, or because the Iranian leadership gave positive signs that it was ready to meet KSA halfway,” the writer said.

“As long as it has not changed its behaviour or changed the course of conflicts [it is involved in], then negotiations with Iran will only lead matters to become worse”.

In the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, Zouheir Kseibati noted that there are 75 days remaining in the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme.

Based on recent conjecture, a few questions arise regarding Saudi-Iranian dialogue, should Tehran promptly respond to the invitation.

“Will the Khamenei-Rouhani leadership take the concerns of Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries seriously, if it perceived that it can obtain whatever it wants from western countries in exchange for its nuclear programme?” he asked.

“Will Tehran agree to leave matters affecting the security and stability of GCC states in their own hands, despite the need to recognise overlapping interests on specific issues, such as security in the Strait of Hormuz, the war against terrorism and, of course, the Syrian crisis?” asked Kseibati.

“Will Tehran give up on Nouri Al Maliki, the Houthis, the Assad regime and Hizbollah?”

Seventy-five days is too short a time to work out the nuclear question and surely too short to prepare a list of realistic choices acceptable to both Saudi Arabia and Iran, concluded Kseibati.

In the Jordanian daily Al Rai, Mohammed Kaaoosh describes it as the Saudi-Iranian breakthrough.

“Many previous leaks in the media confirmed the will of Iran to end the crisis between both countries through diplomatic channels,” he observed.

“Ever since President Rouhani took the reins of power in Iran, he expressed such a wish and his intention to develop relations with neighbouring Gulf countries on bases of friendly proximity, mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs,” he wrote.