Saudi Arabia confirms recent talks with Iran

FM Prince Faisal says the fourth round of negotiations between the two Middle East archrivals took place on September 21.

Prince Faisal did not disclose the location of the meeting or the level of representation [File: Ahmed Yosri/Reuters]

Saudi Arabia held discussions with regional rival Tehran last month as talks to ease tensions continue under Iran’s conservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said on Sunday “the fourth round of talks took place on September 21”.

“These discussions are still in the exploratory phase, and we hope that they lay the foundation to address issues between the two sides,” he said in Riyadh during a joint news conference with the European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.

Prince Faisal did not disclose the location of the meeting or the level of representation, while Borrell welcomed the talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman on Monday said talks with Saudi Arabia are being followed up in Baghdad “with the best conditions”.

“No pre-conditions have been set by either side for the talks,” Saeed Khatibzadeh told a press conference in Tehran, adding that the negotiations have so far been mostly focused on bilateral ties, but have also touched on regional issues.

Khatibzadeh also denied reports that a Saudi delegation has travelled to Tehran to prepare for reopening the Saudi embassy.

Iran and Saudi Arabia, on opposing sides in multiple Middle East conflicts, have been engaged in talks since April at the highest level since cutting ties in 2016.

The discussions were launched under Iran’s former President Hassan Rouhani, who was replaced in August by Raisi. The first three rounds of Saudi-Iranian talks were held in Iraq.

The talks have led to “serious progress” regarding Gulf security, Tehran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said on September 23.

Opposing sides

Saudi Arabia and Iran have backed opposing sides in regional conflicts and political disputes in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq for years, and Riyadh has led an Arab coalition waging war against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen since 2015.

Riyadh and Tehran have said they hope the talks can ease tensions while playing down expectations of a significant diplomatic breakthrough.

Borrell said he addressed the Yemen situation during his visit to Riyadh, where he will also meet Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

“What is happening in Yemen is a terrible tragedy for the people there and it has also impact on the whole region,” Borrell said.

Saudi Arabia intervened in the Yemen war on behalf of the internationally recognised government in 2015, shortly after the Houthi rebels seized the capital, Sanaa.

The fighters have repeatedly targeted the kingdom in cross-border attacks.

Yemen’s grinding conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions, resulting in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

While the UN is pushing for an end to the war, the Houthis have demanded the reopening of Sanaa’s airport, closed under a Saudi blockade since 2016, before any ceasefire or negotiations.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies