Iran supports Iraqi mediation between Tehran and Riyadh: ambassador

April 20, 2021 - 19:36

TEHRAN – The Islamic Republic supports Baghdad's mediation to bring Tehran closer to countries with which relations have soured, Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad Iraj Masjedi told state news IRNA in an interview published on Tuesday.

Commenting on Iraqi efforts to de-escalate tensions between the region’s countries, the ambassador said, “Iran welcomes and encourages any move that leads to the improvement of relations, cooperation and closeness between Iraq and the Arab countries, neighbors and the region.”

Ambassador Masjedi underlined that Iran also supports the expansion of ties between Iraq and the Arab world as Baghdad deserves to restore its political status among Arab states.

A few days after foreign media outlets reported that the Iraqi capital hosted a meeting between Iranian and Saudi security officials, the ambassador voiced Tehran’s support for Baghdad’s mediation between Iran and countries that have challenges with Iran.

The Financial Times reported on Sunday that Saudi and Iranian officials held the first round of their bilateral talks in Baghdad on April 9 and the next round is scheduled to take place next week. Citing regional officials, the newspaper said the Yemeni Ansarallah’s attacks on Saudi Arabia were discussed in the negotiations.

Reuters confirmed the Saudi-Iranian talks, saying they touched on Lebanon, which is facing a political vacuum amid a dire financial crisis.

AFP also confirmed the talks, saying the official-level meetings aim to restore relations severed five years ago between Tehran and Riyadh. An Iraqi government official confirmed the talks to AFP, while a Western diplomat said he had been “briefed in advance” about the effort to “broker a better relationship ... and decrease tensions.”

Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Iran in January 2016 after Iranian protesters, enraged by the Saudi execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimer al-Nimr, stormed its embassy in Tehran. Since then, Saudi Arabia has struck a tough tone on Iran and strongly supported former U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

The reported talks in Baghdad are thought to be the first serious contact between Tehran and Riyadh since 2016.

In its first official reaction to media reports of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said it welcomes dialogue with the Saudi kingdom because such a dialogue is in the interest of the region.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, on Monday responded to foreign media reports of talks between Tehran and Riyadh in Baghdad by saying that Iran supports dialogue with the Saudis. The spokesman did not deny that such talks took place in Iraq.

Speaking at a weekly press briefing, Khatibzadeh said, “We have seen these press reports. Conflicting quotes have been reported in these reports. The Islamic Republic of Iran has always welcomed dialogue with the Saudi kingdom and considered it in the interest of the peoples of the two countries as well as regional peace and stability. [Iran] will continue to think this way.”

While Iran stopped short of openly confirming or denying the Baghdad talks, Saudi state media denied these talks, indicating a Saudi unwillingness to publicize behind-the-scene diplomatic efforts.

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