Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has announced that delegates from Saudi Arabia and Iran would soon engage in diplomatic talks.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have never had friendly relations. Iran is an exponent of Shia Islam and Saudi Arabia is home to the holiest shrine of Sunni Islam. The dichotomy in the faith been the prime anchor in which their foreign and domestic policies have been formed.
After the 1979 Iranian revolution, the relationship further soured between the two. The reformist pro-Western government in Iran had been replaced by leaders who were strong proponents of Shia Islam.
The two nations have fought a number of proxy wars and in 1987 Saudi Arabia suspended diplomatic ties with Iran for three years. Both countries are rich in oil reserves and are competing to broaden their influence in West Asia.
In 2016, Saudi Arabia cut off all diplomatic ties with Iran indefinitely. Saudi Arabia’s Embassy was attacked in Tehran during protests against executions in the kingdom. Iran then accused Saudi Arabia for orchestrating deadly twin attacks on June 7, 2017.
A group of Gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia have currently cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar in part due to the latter’s cordial ties with Iran.
The two countries have often accused the other of sponsoring terror groups. The current impasse in West Asia also seemed to have quelled any hope for reconciliation between the two nations.
However, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has announced that delegates from Saudi Arabia and Iran would soon engage in diplomatic talks and visits. According to Zarif, the visits would be timed at around the first week of September to coincide with the end of Hajj pilgrimage.
Zarif is reported to have said, “The visas have been issued for both sides to make this trip. We are waiting for the final steps to be completed so diplomats from the two countries can inspect their embassies and consulates.”
There is no confirmation or details regarding the trip from the Saudi Arabian government.
The two countries have quietly established tenuous communication in the recent weeks. Zarif met with Adel al-Jubeir, his counterpart from Saudi Arabia on August 1st. The two were at the time attending the Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Istanbul. Zarif had labelled that short meeting just a “diplomatic norm.”
Iraq has signaled that it will be willing to mediate talks between Saudi and Iran to help re-establish diplomatic ties.
Our assessment is that is that both nations are taking a proactive step to restore peace in a region marred by conflict. Both the countries realize that it would be in their best interests to restore peace in the region and not be the theatre for settling larger geopolitical rivalries. If the diplomatic visits are successful, it would be a catalyst to end the impasse in West Asia between Saudi Arabian allies and Qatar.