Following five years of incessant regional clashes, Saudi Arabia changed tone towards Iran echoing US master-policies.
Deterioration in ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia is the summary of the headlines covering the two countries in recent years. Both countries seek competing interests on specific issues inside and/or outside the region. Due to their large oil reserves, Riyadh and Tehran are rivals not only in the religious and political spheres, but also at the energy industry and in OPEC.
The deterioration process, which has centuries-long history, intensified after the Riyadh embassy incident in Tehran. Riyadh broke relations with Tehran six years ago after the attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. The spontaneous attack was claimed based on Saudi conduct on humanitarian issues.
The Middle East has long been a place of great power presence and dominance for geographical, strategic, and economic purposes. World developments and rivalry between great powers have had a significant impact on regional order and ties between actors, posing one of the major challenges in bilateral relations between the two countries.
On Iran’s side, the conflicts between the two countries are based on concerns such as supra-regional forces interfering in the internal and foreign relations of regional countries. Besides, Iran’s isolation from regional negotiation processes, and Saudi Arabia’s historical rivalry built on identity and sectarianism are other fields over which Iran finds itself in antagonism with the Saudi rulers.
Saudi Arabia, on the opposite side, has mostly reserved a negative view of Iran, specifically under the ruling of the new Crown Prince. Riyadh has seen some Iranian power-seeking in the region with contempt due to the illusion of animosity toward Iran. In line with this hostile stance, Riyadh rejects Iran’s undeniable position in Middle East stabilization process.
Following the premiership of new administration in the United States and immediate change in political developments in the region, Saudi Arabia, in a move hardly predictable, made steps towards normalization of ties with Iran.
According to the Financial Times, classified negotiations between officials of the two countries took place in Baghdad to address disagreements between the two sides, including the Yemeni conflict and Iranian-backed factions in Iraq.
Divulging further details on the negotiations, New York Times cited an anonymous Iranian officials saying director of the Saudi Intelligence and Security Agency, Khalid Al-Humaidan, and the deputy secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Iravani, were the officials occupying the major negotiation seats.
Barham Salih, Iraqi President, was the first to officially state that Baghdad hosted direct negotiations between Riyadh and Tehran on several occasions. The two sides had their first round of talks early in April. Salih described Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s ongoing talks ” important and significant” in resolving regional crises.
Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler, Mohammad Bin Salman, said last month that he means to improve ties with its neighboring country, referring to Iran. The comments followed news of direct talks between “senior” officials on both sides to strengthen bilateral ties. Baghdad talks seemed to be the first significant diplomatic talks since 2016.
More recently, A Saudi foreign ministry official, confirming the talks, stressed that alleviation of regional tensions are at the core of agenda, while Riyadh will only find the talks fruitful after Iran’s “verifiable deeds.”
“We hope they prove successful, but it is too early, and premature, to reach any definitive conclusions. Our evaluation will be based on verifiable deeds, and not proclamations.”
The change in tone of Saudi Arabia over Iran occurs simultaneously with US policy change towards Tehran. With the defeat of US Maximum pressure campaign and return to negotiation table to revive nuclear deal, Saudi Arabia also found Compromise and negotiation a better way to address the issues with Iran. The five-year challenges are hoped to give the rulers good lessons for the future actions.