The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has adopted a conciliatory tone towards the kingdom’s nemesis Iran, saying he is seeking “good” relations after reporting that his rivals have had secret talks recently. in Baghdad.
The two countries, locked in a fierce struggle for regional domination, severed ties in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in the wake of the execution of a revered Shia cleric.
“Iran is a neighboring country, and all we aspire to is a good and special relationship with Iran,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) said on Tuesday in a broadcast television interview with the Middle East Broadcasting Center.
“We don’t want the situation in Iran to be difficult. On the contrary, we want Iran to develop… and push the region and the world towards prosperity. “
MBS added that Riyadh was working with regional and global partners to find solutions to Tehran’s “negative behavior”, citing the nuclear and Tehran programs and support for proxies across the Middle East.
“We hope to overcome them and build a good and positive relationship with Iran that will benefit everyone,” Prince Mohammed said during the 90-minute interview.
‘Broker a better relationship’
This marks a change of tone from previous talks with Prince Mohammed, in which he lashed out at Tehran, accusing it of fueling regional insecurity. The prince did not mention any negotiations with Iran.
Baghdad talks, facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, remained secret until the Financial Times reported that a first meeting had taken place on April 9.
An Iraqi government official confirmed the talks to AFP news agency, while a Western diplomat said he had been “informed in advance” of efforts to “improve relations and reduce tensions”.
Riyadh has officially denied the talks in its state-supported media, while Tehran did not comment, saying only that it “always welcomed” the dialogue with Saudi Arabia.
The initiative comes at a time of shifting power dynamics as US President Joe Biden seeks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal which was abandoned by Donald Trump.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have backed opposing sides in several regional conflicts from Syria to Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Houthi rebels.
Recalibrate the relationship
Prince Mohammed also said Riyadh and Washington remain strategic partners despite disagreements on some issues. But also underlined his country’s reluctance to accept any pressure or interference in its internal affairs.
“We are over 90% in agreement with the Biden administration when it comes to Saudi and American interests and we are working to strengthen those interests,” the prince said.
“The issues on which we disagree are less than 10% and we are working to find solutions and understandings… There is no doubt that the United States is a strategic partner,” he added.
Biden has made it clear that his administration is recalibrating U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia after four years of hot weather with the Trump administration. One of Biden’s first decisions was to order an end to US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, while the administration has repeatedly taken a firmer stance on the kingdom’s record in human rights.
The report reinforced the findings of an investigation (PDF) was ended in June 2019 by the former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, who found “sufficient and credible evidence” of MBS responsibility for the murder of the Saudi dissident.
Saudi officials have repeatedly rejected accusations that MBS was involved in Khashoggi’s murder, instead blaming the murder on a group of rogue agents.
The interview was broadcast the same day on a boat loaded with explosives targeted the Saudi port of Yanbu. Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility for past attacks on Saudi oil targets.
Yemen has been in the throes of six years of war and suffered heavy bombing from a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis.
Since taking office in January, Biden has made Yemen a priority and has focused on reviving stalled UN efforts to end a conflict widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and the United Nations. ‘Iran.
Prince Mohammed said no state wanted an armed militia along its borders and urged the Houthis to “sit down at the negotiating table.”
Riyadh presented a nationwide ceasefire proposal for Yemen last month, but the Houthis rejected him saying that a Saudi blockade on key ports must first be lifted.