By Ebrahim Beheshti
Iran and Saudi Arabia have recently held a fifth round of talks in Iraq. The talks are said to have been positive, raising hopes for a possible meeting between the foreign ministers of the two regional powers in the near future. In an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, Hassan Hanizadeh, a Middle East affairs expert, gave his analysis of the latest round of negotiations. Hanizadeh believes that Saudi Arabia should take practical steps for rapprochement with Iran.
IRAN DAILY: How do you assess the recent round of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia? Are you optimistic that they would bear fruit?
HANIZADEH: The talks between the Iranian and Saudi delegations in Iraq have taken place at a time when there are high hopes for resolving the problems between them. Negotiations began in Baghdad in May last year and have taken five rounds so far. Cases on bilateral ties, relations between certain Arab countries with the Zionist regime [of Israel], the axis of resistance, the crises in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, and the war in Yemen have been the focus of talks between the two delegations. Some progress has been made, but the most important or complex case is the Yemen war. Saudi Arabia has declared a unilateral cease-fire, indicating that the country is moving toward new strategies for engaging with Iran, but experience has shown that Riyadh tries to approach Iran whenever it is politically isolated and is at odds with the United States.
Consequently, we should not ignore the assumption that Saudi Arabia may be killing time until the US presidential election in 2024, that if the Democrats win, Saudi Arabia will be more inclined toward Iran, and if the Republicans, who supports the rule of Mohammad bin Salman, emerge victorious, Riyadh's policies will definitely become more aggressive toward Tehran. Therefore, Saudi Arabia has tactical considerations in its dealings with Iran, and now that it is at loggerheads with the Biden administration over multiple issues, it is trying to appease Iran. Anyhow, Riyadh must take practical steps beyond these tactical policies for restoring ties with Iran.
If these talks lead to a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries, part of the Tehran-Riyadh problem will naturally be resolved, although their problems are deeply rooted. Saudi Arabia is doing its best to prevent Iran's influence in the region, and, in doing so, uses the capacity of the Zionist regime to confront Iran.
Can new developments in Yemen, namely the declaration of a UN-brokered cease-fire and the formation of a council consisting of different groups for political dialogue, be considered as practical steps by Saudi Arabia for peace in Yemen and engagement with Iran?
Ending the war is a tactical move. Saudi Arabia must clarify its policies toward Yemen’s Ansarullah. Riyadh launched war against Yemen seven years ago, seeking to topple the Houthis and Ansarullah and push them out of Yemen’s power structure but it has failed. Saudi Arabia must prove that it wants serious negotiations with Ansarullah and recognizes a national unity government in Yemen. The declaration of a cease-fire is the first step and other important steps must be taken. It needs to come clean about its policies on Yemen, whether it agrees with the participation of the Houthis and Ansarullah in a future government in Yemen or not? The thorny problem between Yemen and Saudi Arabia is that Riyadh does not want the Houthis to have a part in the government. Saudi Arabia must demonstrate more goodwill.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have common interests in developing bilateral relations. Do you think that the two countries have come to understand that engagement with each other will benefit both of them as well as the region?
Iran has always extended its hand of friendship to the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council member states. It is certainly in the interest of the reginal nations that the two major Muslim countries, namely Iran and Saudi Arabia, have a coordinated policy. Their convergence can help reduce the Zionist regime's influence in the region. Iran has taken practical steps in this direction and for the stability of the region, and now the ball is in Saudi Arabia's court to prove that it really wants peace and stability in the region. Riyadh should not continue its destructive intervention in the axis of resistance in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has encouraged some other countries, such as Sudan, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, to normalize relations with the Israeli regime. Riyadh must clarify its stances on the axis of resistance, the region and the Zionist regime, as well as the Muslim world. Specifically, about relations with Iran, if it seeks to waste time and enter into tactical and long talks until the US presidential election, naturally the region will witness more tensions. Now the ball is in Riyadh’s court and it has to prove itself. Normally, a thaw in relations between Riyadh and Tehran is in the interest of both of them and the whole region.