The Fourth Round in Iran-Saudi Arabia Talks

The Fourth Round in Iran-Saudi Arabia Talks
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The Iran-Saudi Arabia relations have been sharpened with the effects of regional power struggle and the regional crisis, especially in Syria and Yemen. Following the setting Tehran Embassy of Saudi Arabia and its consulate in Mashhad on fire after the execution of Shia cleric Ayatollah Nimr Baqir al-Nimr in 2016, Saudi Arabia has suspended its diplomatic relations with Iran. The attack against the facilities of Saudi Arabia’s national oil company Saudi Aramco in 2019 has caused the regression of bilateral relations more than ever despite the Iran administration’s refusal of any connection with the attack. Nevertheless, the US decision of military withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq and the concerns over the potential reflections of this situation in the region have become a trigger for both parties to reconsider their relations.

The talks, which started under the leadership of the former president Hassan Rouhani who handed his office over to Ebrahim Raisi in August, continue in the mediation of Iraq since April 9. In the following days of the Baghdad summit, which is called the “Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership” on August 28 in which Iran participated, the Iranian ambassador for Bagdad Iraj Masjedi stated that “we hold three rounds of negotiation with the Saudi party and the fourth round will be held after the establishment of the new Iran government”. Eventually, the fourth round of the talks was held confidentially as expected. In his statement on October 3, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said that the fourth round of the talks took place on September 21 by characterizing it as the “exploratory phase”. While the location of the meeting was not disclosed by the authority, the date of the talks overlaps with the day of President Raisi’s speech in the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in which he stated that “I seek effective interaction with all the countries of the world especially with our neighbors and shake their hands warmly”. Moreover, in his statement on October 4, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh remarked that the negotiations have been pursued “in the best possible shape” and added that “There are no preconditions from either side, and we are trying to start a sustainable relationship within the mutually beneficial framework.” Regarding the content of the talks, he stated that the main focus was bilateral relations, but the regional issues were also debated.

According to the information gathered from several sources concerning the details of the fourth round of the talks, the talks were held in the Bagdad International Airport with the participation of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and the top-level authorities from Iran and Saudi Arabia. The main concerns in the table were the Yemen issue and the reconstruction of the bilateral diplomatic relations. According to the general idea, the talks were productive, and it is claimed that both parties have reached an agreement on the construction of a mechanism for a long-term sustainable solution on the Yemen issue. Furthermore, it is stated that the top-level Houthi authorities are ready to accept the solution which will arise from this mechanism. In addition, according to the sources, the parties agreed to avoid holding media campaigns against each other and decided to support each other in the international organizations. While the restoration of the diplomatic relations was confirmed as an expected step in the dialogue process, any details concerning the re-opening of the embassies or consulates as a preliminary step have not been shared. However, in his statement on October 4, Khatibzadeh did not confirm the claims regarding the Saudi committee’s visit to Tehran for the preparation of re-opening the closed Saudi Embassy. Another prominent issue in the talks has been the suggestion of the Iraqi party for both parties to construct an international highway that connects Mashhad to Mecca through Karbala. It is believed that the Iranian and Saudi authorities have approached positively with Iraq’s suggestion of constructing a land connection (Mashhad-Karbala-Mecca).

Lastly, in his press conference in Lebanon on September 7, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stated that the talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia have progressed a “good distance”. There are some claims concerning that Amir-Abdollahian met with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf in the session breaks of the UN meeting in which he participated physically in New York. The reaction of the USA regarding the meeting of the two rivals, on the other hand, has had a positive tendency that they welcome any direct talks to provide more peace and stability in the region. In the continuation of the fourth round, at least one more round is expected in the Iran-Saudi Arabia talks before 2022. Even though Prime Minister al-Kadhimi has put a lot of effort into this dialogue process, it continues to be a significant expectation for the regional stability that the results of the next election will not have a negative impact on the negotiations.