Iran’s top diplomat extends Saudi trip, meets Crown Prince MBS

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian held meetings with his Saudi counterpart on Thursday, his first visit since a rapprochement earlier this year.

Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on August 18, 2023 [Saudi Press Agency/Handout via Reuters]

Iran’s foreign minister has met Saudi Arabia’s crown prince during his first visit to the kingdom since the Middle East rivals announced a surprise rapprochement, officials said.

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian held talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in Jeddah on Friday, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affaris announced.

After the meeting, Iran’s semi-official news agency Tasnim reported Amir-Abdollahian as saying the de facto Saudi ruler had accepted his invitation to visit Tehran.

“Discussions were frank, beneficial and productive,” Amir-Abdollahian said in a social media post after the meeting.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency offered few substantive details of their conversation, saying merely that they reviewed relations and “future opportunities for cooperation”.

In a statement posted on social media, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said the two officials are looking for ways to develop bilateral relations, as well as “discussing developments in the situation on the regional and international arenas”.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency said it was the first time a senior Iranian official had met with MBS, 37, who has ushered in a series of reforms, but has also clamped down on dissent in the country.

“The meeting … is a great sign of ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia warming and expanding,” said Iran’s state-run Press TV correspondent Gisoo Misha Ahmadi from Jeddah.

There were no details about the Durra/Arash gas field dispute, with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on one side, and Iran on the other, in disagreement over whether Iran has any rights to the field.

Kuwait welcomed Amir-Abdollahian’s visit to Saudi Arabia, without specifying whether any discussions over the gas field had been fruitful.

Amir-Abdollahian travelled to Riyadh on Thursday, and extended what had been scheduled to be a one-day visit.

Shia Muslim-majority Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi broke off ties in 2016, but they agreed to restore diplomatic relations in a Chinese-brokered deal in March.

The announcement sparked optimism, as the two regional heavyweights have backed opposing sides in conflict zones across the Middle East for years, including in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s impoverished neighbour.

On Thursday, Amir-Abdollahian said ties “are progressing in the right direction” as he appeared in front of the media with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

His visit would “be a prelude to the meeting of the heads of the two countries”, he said, without specifying when Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi would travel to Saudi Arabia at King Salman’s invitation.

Iran’s top diplomat hailed economic and security cooperation between the two countries, but announced no new agreements. He was accompanied by Iran’s new ambassador to Riyadh, Alireza Enayati.

“We are sure that these meetings and cooperation will help the unity of the Islamic world,” Amir-Abdollahian added, proposing a “regional dialogue” without giving details.

Prince Faisal visited Tehran in June and said he hoped Raisi would visit the kingdom at the “appropriate time”.

Since the March deal, Saudi Arabia has ramped up a push for a deal with the Houthi rebels in Yemen, holding direct talks in Sanaa, and championed the return of key Iran ally Syria to the Arab League.

Source: News Agencies