Saudi king expresses hope for direct talks with Iran
Saudi Arabia's monarch expressed hope Wednesday that the kingdom's direct talks with Iran will lead to confidence building as the two bitter regional rivals take small steps toward dialogue following several years of heightened tensions.
King Salman made the remarks in a pre-recorded speech delivered to leaders gathered for the UN General Assembly. He said Iran is a neighbour of Saudi Arabia, and that the kingdom hopes talks between the two nations can lead to tangible results that pave the way to achieving the aspirations of the region's people.
He cautioned, though, that relations must be based on respect of national sovereignty and the cessation of support for sectarian militias.
Relations between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shia-ruled Iran hit a low when the Trump administration was exerting maximum pressure on Iran. During those years, Iran was accused of being behind multiple attacks on energy targets in the Persian Gulf - including a stunning strike on an Aramco refinery in 2019 - and of supporting Houthi fighters in Yemen, where the kingdom has been at war for more than six years.
In April, news emerged that the rivals had held a first round of talks in Iraq after President Joe Biden's election. Former President Donald Trump had pulled the US out of a nuclear deal in 2018; Biden said the US wants to return to the pact, though talks have stalled.
The two regional foes met again in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, according to Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency.
The site reported Wednesday that a meeting of foreign ministers and officials from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, and France took place. The EU foreign policy chief was also in attendance. The meeting was chaired by Iraq’s foreign minister.
"Our gathering underscores the fact that only diplomacy and dialogue can end crises, misunderstandings and differences," Mehr quoted Amirabdollahian as saying. "The priority of the new government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to strengthen and develop relations with its neighbours and the region."
Newly sworn-in Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has remained in Iran amid the ongoing pandemic. He was severely critical of American policies in his speech delivered remotely to the UN gathering Tuesday, speaking shortly after Biden's in-person remarks.
King Salman reiterated Saudi concerns about Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful energy purposes.