TEHRAN: Iran and Saudi Arabia are ready to move reconciliation talks to a higher level, more than a year after they began and six years after the two rivals severed relations, Iran’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

Since April last year Iraq has hosted five rounds of talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which support opposing sides in various conflicts around the region.

“Progress has been made in these negotiations,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in an interview with Iran’s state broadcaster.

He added that last week Iran had received a message from Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein who said “the Saudi side is ready to move the talks to the political and public level”.

Iran’s top diplomat noted that previous rounds had mainly been at the level of security officials.

“We announced our readiness for the talks to enter the political stage,” he said.

In 2016, protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran after the kingdom executed Shia cleric Nimr al Nimr. Riyadh responded by cutting ties with Tehran.

Amir-Abdollahian said he hoped that the negotiations with Riyadh would lead to “normal diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran”. Officials in Tehran have previously said that holding talks on a political level could yield better and faster results.

After the last round of negotiations in April, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi said he believed that “reconciliation is near” between Riyadh and Tehran, a further reflection of shifting political alignments across the region.

Following the severance of ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi downgraded diplomatic relations with Tehran and Kuwait recalled its ambassador. Last week the United Arab Emirates said it was “considering” appointing an ambassador in Tehran.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2022

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