Iran could obtain a reputation of being a moderate and neutral party in the region
Reports of potential Iraq-led mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia come as the latter leads the third year of a costly, intractable war across its border in Yemen. A reconciliation with long-time rival Iran, which is backing opposing forces in the Yemen proxy war and in Syria, could ease political and economic pressures on both sides. Although the struggle for regional supremacy has long defined Saudi-Iran relations, the extent of the turmoil in neighboring countries might have led to the realization that both would benefit from a thaw.
Qassim al-Araji, Iraqi interior minister, Iran-backed Iraqi leader, and a senior leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces, known in Arabic as al-Hashd al-Shaabi, visited Riyadh at the request of Saudi authorities “to discuss important topics”, which later were revealed as a possible approach between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Another visit was from the Iraqi Shia cleric and leader of the populist Sadrist movement, Moqtada Sadr, who met with the Saudi Crown Prince, a move deemed as an evidence of Iraq Shia’s distance from rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Teheran.
As a result of these visits, the Iranian government stated, “Iran and Saudi Arabia will exchange diplomatic visits soon”, indicating a possible thaw in relations between the regional rivals since they severed diplomatic ties last year.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif declared that the visits could take place after the haj pilgrimage ends in the first week of September. "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", Zarif affirmed.
Only two years earlier, when Saudi Arabia named its first ambassador to Baghdad, Iraq in a quarter of a century, similar hopes were raised, only to be quickly dashed. However, this time the outreach is happening at the highest levels of Saudi decision-making. The Saudi government is willing to approach Iran and not to repeat the mistakes done with Iraq.
A dialing down of Saudi-Iranian tensions could contribute to a reduction of tensions across the Middle East and North Africa.
During the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting over the situation in Jerusalem, the Saudi and Iranian Foreign Ministers, Adel Jubeir and Javad Zarif, shook hands. Many analysts saw in the handshake a change in the Saudi approach regarding relations with Iran and another signal that Riyadh is willing “to mend fences with Iran and avoid a costly confrontation”, said Ali Hashem and expert with focus on Iran.
Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto