Riyadh confirms Iran talks, says it wants to see ‘verifiable deeds’

“As to current Saudi-Iranian talks they aim to explore ways to reduce tensions in the region,” Ambassador Rayed Krimly told Reuters.
Saturday 08/05/2021
Saudi King Salman, right, walks with with Iraqi President Barham Salih, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018. AFP
Saudi King Salman, right, walks with with Iraqi President Barham Salih, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018. (AFP)

DUBAI--A Saudi foreign ministry official said on Friday that talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran aim to reduce regional tensions, but added it was too early to judge the outcome and Riyadh wanted to see “verifiable deeds”.

The comments by Ambassador Rayed Krimly, head of policy planning at the ministry, to Reuters were the first public confirmation from Riyadh that the rivals – who severed ties in 2016 – were holding direct talks.

“As to current Saudi-Iranian talks they aim to explore ways to reduce tensions in the region,” Krimly said.

“We hope they prove successful, but it is too early, and premature, to reach any definitive conclusions. Our evaluation will be based on verifiable deeds, and not proclamations.”

He declined to provide details on the talks, but regional officials and sources had told Reuters that the discussions were focused on Yemen and the 2015 nuclear deal between global powers and Iran, which Riyadh had opposed.

Krimly said Saudi policy had been explained “very clearly” by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who last month said that while the Sunni Muslim kingdom has a problem with Tehran’s “negative behaviour” it wanted good relations with Shia Iran.

Houthi factor

Tensions between Riyadh and Tehran have festered over the Yemen war, where an Iran-backed Houthi militias have increased attacks on Saudi Arabia. Strains between the two countries also grew after a 2019 assault on Saudi oil plants that Riyadh blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran denied.

Riyadh supported former US President Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to quit the nuclear pact for not addressing Tehran’s missiles programme and regional behaviour. After Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran responded by breaching several nuclear restrictions.

Global powers are trying at talks in Vienna to bring the United States and Iran back into full compliance with the deal. Saudi Arabia has urged them to reach a stronger accord.

Analysts have warned against expectations of major shifts in regional dynamics over the Saudi-Iran contacts.

Saudi Arabia continues to be wary of Iran’s role in Syria and Lebanon and even more so of Tehran’s meddling with the Yemen war, even if they are not opposed to the calming of tensions across the Middle East after years of hostilities that have brought the region close to a full-scale conflict.

Riyadh seems to be seeking a more responsive attitude from Tehran to help wind down its six-year military engagement in neighbouring Yemen, where Houthi militias have launched a campaign to seize the last northern government stronghold of Marib and stepped up missile and drones strikes on the kingdom. Iran’s support to the Houthis with lethal weapons and military advice on the ground has been instrumental in the continuation of the war and the Houthi’s refusal to accept the Saudi plan for a cease fire and a settlement.

Krimly said recent media reports that the head of Saudi intelligence had held talks in Damascus were inaccurate.

He said Saudi policy towards Syria remained based on support for the Syrian people, for a political solution under a United Nations umbrella and in accordance with Security Council resolutions and for the unity and Arab identity of Syria.

Iraq has hosted talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iraqi President Barham Salih said on Wednesday.

Asked how many rounds of Saudi-Iranian talks Iraq had hosted, Salih replied: “More than once.”

“It is ongoing, and it is important and it is significant, and for Iraq to be able to play that convening role between these regional actors is important,” he added.