Tehran, Iran – Iran’s foreign ministry has said the country is open to direct talks with Saudi Arabia after media reports said the two regional rivals recently held secret talks in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Monday refused to confirm or deny the reported talks on April 9 in Baghdad, but added that media outlets have used “contradictory quotes” and have had a history of fabricating news, referring to reports by the London-based newspaper Financial Times and news agency Reuters.
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Khatibzadeh, however, pointed out that Iran “has always welcomed talks with the Saudi kingdom and has deemed it beneficial to the two countries’ people and regional peace and stability, and this thought will continue”.
The two countries have not had formal diplomatic ties since January 2016 when Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran was stormed after a prominent Shia Muslim leader was executed by Riyadh.
According to reports by the Financial Times and Reuters, Iranian and Saudi officials held direct talks on April 9 to discuss the war in Yemen, where a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels since March 2015.
The talks also reportedly touched on Lebanon, which is in political and economic turmoil, and where Arab states are concerned about the influence of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.
Unnamed sources from Iran and Saudi Arabia denied talks were held in Iraq.
The reported meeting came shortly after Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi travelled to Saudi Arabia to hold talks with its top leadership, including powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Al-Kadhimi also visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE), another Iranian adversary in the region.
Iraq holds close ties with neighbouring Iran, and several high-level political delegations have travelled to Tehran to discuss the region in recent months.
Reports of the direct Iran-Saudi Arabia talks also come as Iran and world powers are weeks into negotiations in Vienna to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the country’s landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran has accused the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), led by Saudi Arabia, of trying to derail the talks that if successful, will see harsh US sanctions on the country lifted.
The GCC states have repeatedly said they wish to be included in the talks and have called for the JCPOA’s expansion to curb Iran’s missile programme and its increasing regional influence.