DUBAI: A Saudi foreign ministry official said on Friday that talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran aim to reduce regional tensions but that 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, were the first public confirmation from Riyadh that the rivals were holding direct talks.

“We hope they prove successful, but it is too early, and premature, to reach any definitive conclusions,” Krimly said. “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 have said the discussions were focused on Yemen and the 2015 nuclear deal between global powers and Iran, which Riyadh had opposed.

Iraq’s president said on Wednesday that Baghdad hosted more than one round of talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who have been locked in a rivalry that has played out in proxy conflicts across the region, including Yemen.

Krimly said Saudi policy had been explained “very clearly” by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who last month said that although Riyadh had a problem with Tehran’s “negative behaviour”, it nevertheless wanted good relations.

Yemen war

Tensions between Riyadh and Tehran have festered over the Yemen war, where an Iran-aligned Houthi group has increased attacks on Saudi Arabia. Strains between the two Gulf powerhouses also grew after a 2019 assault on Saudi oil plants that Riyadh blamed on Tehran, a charge the latter denies.

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 reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran responded by breaching several nuclear restrictions.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2021

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