Iran halts negotiations with Saudi Arabia

March 13, 2022 - 21:50

TEHRAN — Nour News, a website close to the Supreme National Security Council, reported on Sunday that the Iranian government has temporarily suspended talks with its regional rival Saudi Arabia.

The outlet did not reveal the source of the information or the reason for the sudden suspension the talks. 

The move comes three days before the two sides were set to meet in the Iraqi capital Baghdad for a fifth round of negotiations. Talks have been taking place since April 2020 with the aim of ending tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.

The Saudi government has yet to issue a statement on the suspension of negotiations. Baghdad, which was expected to host the talks on Wednesday, March 16, has also not commented on the matter.

Coincidentally, the decision by Iran to suspend the talks comes a day after Saudi Arabia executed 81 men over what it called “allegiance to foreign terrorist organizations and holding deviant beliefs.”  Some human rights activists have said that about half of the men who were executed were members of the Shia community.

In one of the largest mass executions in Saudi Arabia since 1980, a total of 81 people were killed on charges of alleged terrorism-related activities.

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported that the executions took place on March 12, and included seven Yemenis and one Syrian.

Forty of those executed are reported to have come from Qatif, a region populated by the kingdom’s Shia minority.

The Saudi government claims the executions were carried out on convicts who held “deviant beliefs, pledging allegiance to foreign organizations.”

According to former British MI6 agent Alastair Crooke, the leadership of Saudi Arabia ascribes to and promotes the ideology of Wahhabism, considered a distortion of Islam by most Muslims.

What makes Wahhabism dangerous is that anyone who does not subscribe to it is guilty of holding deviant beliefs and can be killed.

In the view of the Saudi authorities, the term “deviant beliefs” constitutes anything that does not conform to the Wahhabi ideology.

The Yemenis who were executed faced charges of allegedly supporting the Yemeni resistance group Ansarallah.

One of the executed, Abdallah al Zaher, was arrested at the age of 13.

International NGOs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) have criticized the Saudi judicial system for its injustice and its lack of due process.

“People accused of crimes, including children, commonly face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest,” says an HRW report from March 2022.

The HRW notes that many of the confessions of alleged “crimes” committed by detainees were obtained through torture, often as the sole basis for conviction.

Despite judicial reforms passed in February 2021, the HRW remains unconvinced about the Saudi judicial system, stating: “Saudi and international human rights groups have raised concerns that many arbitrary charges will simply be codified as wide-ranging, catch-all offenses that criminalize the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, among other rights.”

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been frosty for years over a variety of issues, including the war in Yemen, where since March 2015, Riyadh and its allies have been pounding the Ansarallah resistance movement.

The war broke out when the Saudi-led coalition invaded Yemen with the aim of ejecting Ansarallah from the capital city of Sanaa, and restoring the government of Saudi-backed president Abd Mansour Hadi.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have conducted four rounds of talks to resolve the issues between them.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on March 7 that disputes between Iran and Saudi Arabia as an important country in the region and the Muslim world should not prevent Tehran and Riyadh from having a minimum of meaningful relations.

Khatibzadeh made the remarks in response to a question on the recent remarks by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in his lengthy interview with The Atlantic in which he spoke favorably of the possibility of patching up relations between Tehran and Riyadh. 

Speaking at a weekly press conference, the spokesman refrained from responding in detail to the question and referred to the remarks by his chief Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian. 

“Our foreign minister expressed the position of the Islamic Republic of Iran and expressed his views in specific statements,” he said. 

Khatibzadeh said relations between Saudi Arabia would benefit the people of the region. “The main beneficiaries of these relations are the people of the region and the people of the two countries.”

He added, “The talks in Baghdad have continued in a good, respectful and positive atmosphere in the last four rounds. Of course, I would like to emphasize that tangible results have not been achieved from these talks to date, and the results have been limited. In the fifth round, we must try to translate the understandings that we had in some areas into results.”

He noted, “The date of the fifth round is not yet final. But it is the will of both parties to hold the next meeting. If Saudi Arabia comes to Baghdad with the firm will to achieve a good result from these talks, the Islamic Republic of Iran is also ready to speed up the establishment of relations between the two countries.”

On March 5, Iran’s top security official clarified on the goal of Tehran’s negotiations with Saudi Arabia, reminding it that Israel is the biggest enemy of the Islamic and Arab worlds.

Ali Shamkhani, who is the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, made the remarks after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said in an interview that Riyadh does not view Israel as an enemy, but a potential ally.

“Iran's active participation in bilateral talks with Saudi Arabia -hosted by Iraq- stems from the Islamic Republic’s principled strategy for [fostering] cooperation & amity with neighbors based on securing bilateral and regional interests. We should not forget that the Zionist regime is the biggest enemy of the Islamic and Arab worlds,” Shamkhani said on Twitter.

In addition to Persian, Shamkhani posted the tweet in other languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, and English.

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