Iran to reopen OIC representative office in Saudi Arabia

Diplomats are in Jeddah to launch office after six years as Iran and Saudi Arabia prepare for a fifth round of direct talks.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian speaking
Iran’s Foreign Minister Amirabdollahian says the talks are focused on bilateral issues and when to return relations to normal [File: AFP]

Tehran, Iran – Three Iranian diplomats have arrived in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah to reopen Iran’s representative office to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Semi-official Iranian media reported on Monday that the diplomats – who were not named – had landed in the city where the 57-member organisation is based to restart operations six years after the office was closed following a diplomatic rift.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh also confirmed on Monday that three diplomats had received visas from Saudi Arabia and were engaged in efforts to reopen the office.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is also ready to reopen its embassy in Saudi Arabia,” he also told a news conference in Tehran, but added that this would hinge on “practical efforts” by the kingdom.

‘Talks on bilateral issues’

The two countries broke diplomatic ties in 2016 after crowds of people attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran and a consulate office in Mashhad in response to the execution of a prominent Shia religious leader by the Sunni-majority kingdom.

But since April 2021, the regional rivals have engaged in four rounds of direct negotiations facilitated by Iraq in Baghdad, and say some progress has been made.

Preparations are currently under way for a fifth round.

“I believe the Saudi side is interested in talks on some regional issues as well, but our negotiations, for now, are focused on bilateral issues and on when to return relations to a normal state,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told Al Jazeera last week.

Amirabdollahian did, however, say the two need to engage in “close dialogue” to resolve regional issues in the long term.

In Yemen, where a war has been raging for more than six years, Tehran and Riyadh are seen as supporting opposing sides. A Saudi-led military coalition backing Yemen’s internationally recognised government says Iran provides the Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms and expertise, something Iran denies.

Last month, Iran’s top envoy in Yemen, Hassan Irloo, died of COVID-19 shortly after being transferred to Tehran through mediation efforts by Iraq and others. Iran’s foreign ministry blamed Saudi Arabia for delaying the transfer, an allegation the kingdom denied.

Source: Al Jazeera