DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s foreign minister met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday as part of his visit to the kingdom, a sign of how the two countries are trying to ease tensions after years of unrest. Reduce.
Images of Iran’s top diplomat, Hossein Amirabdollahian, sitting with Prince Mohammed just months earlier would have been unthinkable as the old rivals are embroiled in what officials in both Tehran and Riyadh have seen as a proxy conflict in the wider Middle East. The prince even went so far as to compare Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Adolf Hitler at one point in 2017.
But since reaching a Chinese-brokered détente in March, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been moving toward reopening diplomatic missions in each other’s countries. Saudi King Salman has even invited Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline protégé of Khamenei, to visit the kingdom as well.
However, challenges remain, particularly with regard to Iran’s advancing nuclear program, the Saudi Arabian-led war in Yemen and the security of the region’s waterways. Meanwhile, the US is still trying to broker a deal with Iran to release detained US citizens in exchange for the release of billions of dollars frozen in South Korea, while also bolstering its troop presence in the Persian Gulf.
Saudi state television broadcast images of Prince Mohammed sitting with Amirabdollahian in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.
The state-run Saudi news agency offered few substantive details of their conversation, saying only that they were assessing relations and “future cooperation opportunities”.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Amirabdollahian said the two men spoke for 90 minutes during their meeting in Jeddah.
“Fair, open, useful and fruitful conversations based on neighborhood policy,” the foreign minister wrote in his post. “Through the will of the heads of state of the two countries, sustainable bilateral ties have been maintained in all areas. We agree on ‘security and development for all’ in the region.”
Amirabdollahian arrived in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on Thursday for meetings with his counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan. The kingdom cut ties with Iran in 2016 after protesters there raided Saudi diplomatic posts. Saudi Arabia had executed a prominent Shia cleric with 46 others days earlier, triggering the demonstrations. The kingdom also initially supported rebels attempting to overthrow Syria’s Iran-backed president Bashar Assad, while also opposing the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon.
Since the US unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018, Iran has been blamed for a series of attacks. Those attacks included targeting the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in 2019, temporarily halving the kingdom’s crude oil production.
But following the coronavirus pandemic and the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, have begun to reassess how to manage relations with Iran. Prince Mohammed also wants a peaceful Middle East with stable oil prices to fuel his own grand billion-dollar development plans for the kingdom.
In March, the kingdom and Iran reached an agreement in China to reopen embassies.
Before Amirabdollahian’s visit, Mohammad Javad Zarif was the last Iranian foreign minister to visit Saudi Arabia on a public trip, traveling to the kingdom in 2015 to offer condolences for the death of King Abdullah.
The visit comes as Saudi Arabia continues to struggle to pull out of Yemen’s years-long war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sanaa. Amirabdollahian’s visit coincides with another visit by Omani mediators there to try to negotiate a peace deal.
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.