Shafaq News/ Iran has asked Saudi Arabia to reopen consulates and re-establish diplomatic ties as a prelude to ending the war in Yemen, with timing emerging as the key sticking point in Iraqi-brokered talks between the regional rivals, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.
While world powers push for negotiations to resurrect the Iran nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic has quietly held four rounds of discussions aimed at easing years of tension with Saudi Arabia. The focus has been on Yemen, where the two countries back opposing sides.
The last round of Saudi-Iran talks took place on Sept. 21 and another is expected to take place soon.
Saudi Arabia, which has battled Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen since 2015, is pushing to end a conflict that’s exposed its oil facilities to drone and missile attacks. Two years ago, a Houthi assault on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq knocked out half the production capacity in the world’s biggest oil exporter, roiling global markets.
It wants a deal on Yemen as an initial step toward rebuilding diplomatic ties, which were severed in 2016, but Iran has insisted that normalization come first, said one of the people, and two others briefed on the talks, asking not to be named because details are private.
Iran has suggested reopening the consulates in the Iranian and Saudi cities of Mashhad and Jeddah, respectively, as a sign of goodwill, two of the people said. The talks have progressed overall but tend to stumble when it comes to details, one of the people said.
Iran’s foreign ministry and Saudi Arabia’s Center for International Communications, which deals with international media queries, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Officials in Iraq, which has been helping to broker the talks, also didn’t comment.
Iraq Brings Saudi and Iran Closer as Biden Resets Policy
Saudi Arabia’s proposals to halt the fighting have been met with scant interest from the Houthis, who diplomats say see little reason to back down after successfully taking over swathes of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa.
As the U.S. retreats from the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, a key ally for decades, has sought to improve relations with Iran’s Arab allies and reduce regional tensions to shore up its own security.
In contrast, despite crippling U.S. sanctions imposed when former President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord, Iran is in a better position politically. Courted by world powers and with its armed proxies able to wreak havoc in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, it has a strong hand in any negotiations.
Nuclear talks that began in Vienna between world powers and Iran have stalled since the election of hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi as president in June. He has made more positive comments about his country’s outreach with Saudi Arabia, however, saying he was keen for embassies to reopen.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Oct. 8 that several agreements had been reached during the ongoing discussions but didn’t give details. Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud said earlier this month the talks were still at an “exploratory stage,” though his country hoped the dialog would “resolve the issues stuck between the two countries.”
Reflecting growing concern in Yemen’s Saudi-backed government that a deal would come at its expense, Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik warned Monday that his country “should not be a bargaining chip.” He said the arrival of a hardline government in Tehran suggested there’d be no let up in support for the Houthis in their bid to capture the country.
Iraq’s Election Will Have Repercussions Far Beyond Baghdad
There is a risk, however, that the negotiation process will be set back if this week’s parliamentary elections in Iraq result in Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, being replaced.
Al-Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief with ties to security and political officials on both sides, is seen as a trusted go-between. Diplomats say the progress so far owes much to his perceived credibility and desire to elevate Baghdad’s role as a bridge between Sunni-dominated Arab nations and Iran, whose Shiite Muslim allies have ruled Iraq for most of the period since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 ended Saddam Hussein’s rule.
Lawmakers backed by influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr came first in the vote, but Iraq’s fractured political landscape means it may take weeks or even months of talks before a new coalition government is installed