TEHRAN – After more than a year of security talks, Iran and Saudi Arabia are moving closer to reaching an agreement on restoring diplomatic relations. But the Saudis’ insistence on linking the talks to the Yemen war could delay the agreement.Following the successful conclusion of the last round of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the outlook for restoration of the diplomatic ties between Tehran and Riyadh looks brighter than a few weeks ago.
Two key officials from Iran and Iraq with direct knowledge of the talks have voiced optimism that the talks would result in a breakthrough in the future.
Iran’s outgoing ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, who will soon be replaced by Mohammad Kazem Al Sadeq, said that the fifth round of Iran-Saudi talks hosted by Baghdad on April 21 resulted in the two sides approving a roadmap for their future interactions.
“In the last round of negotiations, it was important that the two sides have an agreed framework for the future which came to fruition. And this is per se a positive point that will pave the future way for both sides,” Masjedi said.
According to Masjedi, the Iranian and Saudi negotiators discussed during their last round of talks a number of issues such as “confidence-building” measures, bilateral cooperation and measures such as Hajj pilgrimage and the reopening of embassies, and “regional and international matters.”
It seems that the two sides have made progress toward resuming their ties as it is expected that the next round of talks would be held at a diplomatic and political level, not at a security level as it was in the past.
The Iraqi prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who played a pivotal role in facilitating the talks, has said that he expects that the talks will end in an agreement soon.
“The brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic are dealing with the dialogue file with high responsibility and the requirements of the current situation in the region, and we are confident that the understanding will soon be reached, God willing,” al-Kadhimi said in remarks to Iraq’s Al-Sabah newspaper.
He added, “There is a real and wide breakthrough in the relations between all the countries of the region.”
But the breakthrough in Iran-Saudi relations seems to be depending, in one way or another, on the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of militarily supporting Ansarullah.
Saudi Arabia is asking that Iran put pressure on Ansarullah to reach a political solution to the Yemen war, according to Arab press reports.
The London-based Al-Arab newspaper cited Arab circles on Saturday as saying that “the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran requires Tehran to take practical steps to narrow the confidence gap, and among these steps is to pressure” Ansarullah “to reach a realistic political settlement to the Yemeni crisis that erupted eight years ago.”
The Yemen issue disrupted the talks for nine months in the third round of talks, according to Seyed Reza Sadr al-Hosseini, a leading Iranian expert on the West Asia region.
The expert told Jahan News website that in the third round of talks, Saudi Arabia presented “illogical demands about non-interference in the affairs of the Ansarullah movement.” In reply to that demand, Iran gave a “clear and negative” response, he added.
As a result, Saudi Arabia delayed the talks for nine months, Sadr al-Hosseini said.
Iran has said it does not dictate any decisions on Yemen and respects the choice the Ansarullah movement makes. Iran considers Ansarullah as a “mature and respectable group which represents large swaths of the Yemeni people,” according to the Iranian expert.
Therefore, if Saudi Arabia continues to refrain from recognizing Ansarullah as a Yemeni independent group and asks Iran to wield influence there, a deal in Baghdad would be unlikely. Because Iran is not likely to put pressure on the government in Sanaa. Iran has said that it supports a Yemeni-Yemeni settlement to the crisis.
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