Zarif tests the waters in Oman for dialogue with Saudis
MUSCAT, Oman - Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif included the sultanate of Oman in his regional tour that has taken in Qatar and Iraq, amid reports that efforts are being made to bridge the divide between long-standing rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia and launch a dialogue between them.
The three capitals visited by Zarif, Doha, Baghdad and Muscat, share good relations with Tehran.
Oman is well-experienced in brokering mediation between parties with vastly divergent views.
Despite the lack of authoritative information from official sources, Middle East analysts have linked Zarif’s regional tour to efforts aimed at launching talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The Financial Times went so far as to say that such talks had already begun at a low level. It said a meeting took place earlier this month in Baghdad between officials from the two countries.
Sources did not rule out that the visit made by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Monday to Doha was related to the diplomatic momentum behind the quest for Saudi-Iranian dialogue, especially since it came on the heels of a similar visit by Zarif to Qatar.
On Wednesday, Zarif was received in Muscat by Omani Deputy Prime Minister for Cabinet Affairs Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, along with Minister of Foreign Affairs Badr al-Busaidi.
The Omani News Agency (ONA) said the meeting brought about “a review of the existing bilateral relations between the two friendly countries and ways to bolster them in several fields”.
The meeting also discussed matters of “mutual interest” and the two parties “exchanged views on developments on the regional and international arenas and the efforts aimed at promoting security and stability in the region in order to serve the interests of its peoples and strengthen international cooperation ,” added ONA.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh had described Zarif’s regional tour as being aimed at “developing bilateral relations and following up on regional talks and beyond.”
Saudi Arabia and Iran have not confirmed that their representatives held talks in Baghdad, but hints have intensified about their willingness to start a dialogue.
“Iran is a neighbouring country and all we aspire for is a good and special relationship with Iran,” said Prince Mohammed.
“We do not want Iran’s situation to be difficult. On the contrary, we want Iran to grow… and to push the region and the world towards prosperity,” he added.
In what was considered an indication of efforts being made to start a dialogue between Riyadh and Tehran, the crown prince said Tuesday, “We are working with our partners to deal with this problem and we hope to overcome it and have a good and positive relationship with everyone.”
Riyadh severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in January 2016 following attacks on its embassy in the Iranian capital and its consulate in Mashhad by violent “demonstrators” protesting the kingdom’s execution of the Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr.
Iran has previously rejected Saudi calls to include Riyadh and its regional allies in any international talks about Iran’s nuclear programme.
But it has repeatedly expressed its willingness to carry out a regional dialogue, which observers say Tehran wants tailored to its wishes and not to address the core issues of concern to the countries of the region.
Such conditions have till now limited the chances of any real dialogue paving the way for reconciliation between Iran and its neighbours, analysts say.