Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has struck a conciliatory tone towards the kingdom’s arch-nemesis, Iran, saying he sought “good” relations after reports the rivals held secret talks recently in Baghdad.
The two countries, locked in a fierce struggle for regional dominance, cut ties in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions following the kingdom’s execution of a revered Shia cleric.
“Iran is a neighbouring country, and all we aspire for is a good and special relationship with Iran,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) said in a television interview broadcast with the Middle East Broadcasting Center late Tuesday.
“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.”
Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the leading Sunni Muslim power, and Iran, the largest Shia Muslim country, have been locked in a struggle for regional dominance for decades.
But in recent years, their rivalry has been exacerbated by proxy wars across the Middle East.
In Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Sunni Arab states has been supporting pro-government forces in their war against the Iran-aligned rebel Houthi movement since 2015. Iran has denied that it is smuggling weapons to the Houthis, who have stepped up their missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities and oil infrastructure.
MBS added that Riyadh was working with regional and global partners to find solutions to Tehran’s “negative behaviour”, mentioning Tehran’s nuclear and programmes and support for proxies around the Middle East.
“We hope to overcome them and build a good and positive relationship with Iran that would benefit everyone,” Prince Mohammed said during the interview that lasted 90 minutes.
This marks a change in tone compared to Prince Mohammed’s previous interviews, in which he lashed out at Tehran, accusing it of fuelling regional insecurity. The prince did not mention any negotiations with Iran.
The talks in Baghdad, facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, remained secret until the Financial Times reported that a first meeting had been held on April 9.
Riyadh has officially denied the talks in its state-backed media while Tehran has not commented, asserting only it has “always welcomed” dialogue with Saudi Arabia
The initiative comes at a time of shifting power dynamics as US President Joe Biden is seeking to revive the tattered 2015 nuclear deal that was abandoned by Donald Trump.