Interview: Riyadh showed flexibility on restoring ties with Iran in fifth round of talks

Interview: Riyadh showed flexibility on restoring ties with Iran in fifth round of talks

Over the past year, the Iranian-Saudi relations have witnessed a new stage of de-escalation, with the Saudis being willful to restore diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic and end war in Yemen, where Iran has a sway. So far, Iraq hosted several rounds in Baghdad.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): Over the past year, the Iranian-Saudi relations have witnessed a new stage of de-escalation, with the Saudis being willful to restore diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic and end war in Yemen, where Iran has a sway. So far, Iraq hosted several rounds in Baghdad. 

Alwaght News has talked to Saadullah Zaree, an expert of West Asia affairs, asking for details of the negotiations. 

Q: The fourth round was halted as Saudi Arabia executed 80 Shiite citizens in its largest mass execution. However, it is said that in the fifth round, great achievements have been made. How great have they been? 

Zaree: Basically, Iran's strategy from the beginning has been to establish and maintain relations with Saudi Arabia. Both during the time of Imam Khomeini and during the leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei, there have been developments in Iran-Saudi Arabia relations, including the killing of pilgrims in 1987 and the Mina incident of 2015, and more. Iran has never sought to sever diplomatic relations. Unlike Iran, which has sought to maintain bilateral relations, the Saudis have been erratic, at times seeking relations with Iran and at other times having opposite views. 

In recent years, Iran has been very interested in establishing relations with the Saudis to help the Yemeni people and solve the Yemeni problem. Since Yemen war began in 2015, Iran's strategy has been based on ending it. The great martyr General Qassem Soleimani in 2019 was seriously seeking to end the war, but given the fact that the Saudis assessed Iran's pursuit of peace to their own detriment, they did not accept the end of the war and the crisis continued. In the past year, several rounds of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been hosted by Iraq, and two issues have been discussed in these talks. One was Yemen war and the other was the establishment of political relations between the two sides. The Saudis were stubborn until the fourth round of talks on relations and the reopening of embassies, and, in fact, the talks were limited to the Yemeni war. 

In the fifth round, which was one level higher than the previous ones and was held in the presence of senior security officials of the two countries, the Saudis actually showed interest in reestablishing political relations between the two countries and it was decided to pursue this issue in the next round. In the same round, the Saudis also accepted some cases regarding the crisis in Yemen. In particular, the Saudis used to talk only about a ceasefire in Yemen, but Iran's position was to establish a ceasefire with the lifting of the siege. In the fifth round, the Saudis showed flexibility, still the talks on Yemen did not reach a conclusion, and it was decided to follow this issue for a conclusion in the next round of talks. The Saudi team was present at this round of talks only to call for a ceasefire and not to lift the siege, and they had to go to the capital and discuss with leaders for this decision to be implemented. 

Q: Do you mean that the fifth round focused on the ceasefire and siege lifting and during the talks there was a discussion of bilateral ties, or there was an agenda for bilateral relations in advance? 

Zaree: No, there were two separate cases. They discussed the ceasefire and they also discussed bilateral ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

Q: The Iranian ambassador to Iraq did not rule out reopening the embassies in both countries. How much did the fifth round prepared the ground for this issue? 

Zaree: No final conclusion has been reached in the fifth round of talks on reopening the embassies, and we cannot say that the reopening of the embassies is imminent. The Saudis were not ready to discuss this issue until the fifth round, and this issue is to be seriously pursued in the upcoming rounds. 

Q: How do you see the role of Saudi impasse in Yemen war in Riyadh's tendency to de-escalate with Tehran? 

Zaree: The reality is that management of war is difficult for countries. The war has always put a special strain on the countries' economy. More than seven years of war in Yemen have cost the Saudis dearly, with estimates that the annual cost of the war to Saudi Arabia has been more than $76 billion. About $ 216 billion was spent during the first three years of the war, and yet the cost of eight years of war is hundreds of billions of dollars. The Saudis had about $1 trillion in hard currency reserves before the war in Yemen, which has now shrunk to $250 billion. With that in mind, if the Saudis continue for another three years, all their reserves will run out. Another point is the futility of the war in Yemen. What Saudis have achieved and what problems they have been able to solve in the past seven years is a question. Have they addressed their security concerns on the part of Yemen? Have they imposed their conditions on the whole of Yemen? Have they got ballistic missiles out of the hands of the Yemenis? Have they changed Iran's attitude and policy in the region? The answer to all these questions is no. Another issue is that Saudi Arabia is spending from the credit of some countries in the region, the countries in its coalition, the United States, and the United Nations, which a few years ago passed Resolution 2216 against Yemen. Now that Saudi Arabia has failed in this war, these foreign parties put pressure on the Saudis to settle the war case. 

Q: Can we see the de-escalation talks cover other areas of Saudi-Iranian competition like Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan, or the Saudis are unidimensional in this case? 

Zaree: We cannot deny the impact of one political issue on other political issues, and naturally these issues affect each other. While negotiations with Saudi Arabia have not reached a clear status and we do not have agenda for negotiations, and our predictions are based only on speculation, it is too early to comment on the impact of this issue on Lebanon and Iraq cases. If the Saudis are wise enough, they should understand that in any case in the region they want to reach the necessary result they should negotiate with Iran and resolve their problems with Iran, but so far we have not seen signs of rationality in the Saudi rulers. 

Q: The Saudi foreign policy is always tied to the American policy in the region. Now we observe the two at loggerheads over human rights issues and even Yemen war. Is the Saudi de-escalation agenda influenced by the American policies? 

Zaree: One of the Saudi problems in the region is that it is a follower of the American policies. This is while the United States is itself weaker than ever and its ability to determine regional cases is questioned. The Saudis are now followers to a country whose dominance era has gone and this automatically influences their might and troubles them. At the same time, the Saudis have had policies independent of the United States in the region. For example, in cases like Pakistan, promoting the Wahhabism in the region, and Inter-Arab cases like tensions with Qatar, Jordan, and the UAE, the American have been off the circle and Washington's policy has not impacted them. In these cases the Americans have been standing at the same distance from both sides, and these differences would remain and can resurface any time.


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