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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Saudi Arabia, Iran unlikely to normalize ties soon

According to Prince Salman, Iran's nuclear program is a negative problem and serves as an obstacle to normalizing ties with Iran.

A normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is less likely to take place in the short term due to significant differences, according to political experts.

Last week, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said “Iran is a neighboring country and we aspire to have a good and distinguished relationship with it.”

“We want a prosperous Iran and to have mutual interests with each other, but our negative problem with it is its negative actions such as its nuclear program or support for outlaw militias in some countries in the region and the ballistic missile program.

“We are working with our partners to deal with this problem, and we hope to overcome it and have a good and positive relationship with everyone,” he added.

Read more: Saudi prince seeks good relations with “arch-nemesis” Iran

Bin Salman did not specify details of his talks with the partners, but the Financial Times recently said that a Saudi delegation met an Iranian delegation on April 9 in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

The secret Saudi-Iranian talks, according to the same source, focused on easing tensions between the two countries, Houthi attacks on the kingdom and agreeing to hold a new round of talks.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Prof. Cengiz Tomar, the deputy head of Ahmet Yesevi International Turkish-Kazakh University, said the Saudi crown prince revealed significant policy changes.

Noting that US President Joe Biden’s policies have significantly affected the Middle East, Tomar emphasized that the convergence of Egypt and Turkey is the best example of this.

Tomar said the Saudi crown prince not only talked about improving ties with Iran but also focused in his speech on eliminating extremism in the kingdom.

He said the crown prince’s statement that there is 90% consensus between the US and his country means the fight against Iran will be continued through a different method under Washington’s leadership.

“This statement means that Saudi Arabia will no longer fight Iran by supporting extreme Sunni movements. It is a very important development for the whole world and the Middle East, and if it happens, it will help to extinguish the existing fire in the region,” he added.

However, since bin Salman referred to Iran’s nuclear program as a “negative problem,” Tomar indicated that it seems difficult to see any development in the short term.

Read more: Iran downplays controversial leaked FM remarks

Dr. Serhan Afacan, an academic at Marmara University’s Institute for Middle East Studies, said the most remarkable part of the prince’s speech was that he said they are working with their global and regional partners to find solutions to these problems. These problems are very difficult to overcome.

Noting that the tensions between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are not only due to ideological differences, Afacan said “it is understood that the main addressee of Mohammed bin Salman’s statements is the US.”

Afacan said bin Salman wanted to convey a message to Washington that it cannot use him “to scare Iran and that he can resolve his problems with Iran by himself.”

“For Saudi Arabia, Iran’s proxies and ballistic missiles are at least as much of a problem as its nuclear program, and perhaps even more. In other words, it is essential that this way turns into a meaningful action,” he stressed.

Rahim Farzam, a foreign policy expert at the Iranian Studies Center (IRAM) in Ankara, pointed out that the news of a possible normalization between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have had no diplomatic relations since 2016, came right after the US signaled a change in its approach towards Iran after the departure of former President Donald Trump.

He noted that current US President Joe Biden followed a very soft policy against Iran, unlike Trump.

“Washington, which does not even react to the targeting of its most important ally Israel in the Middle East by Iranian-backed militias, will revive the nuclear deal. Washington’s attitude that prioritizes diplomacy with Iran should be read as a strong message to the US’s allies in the Middle East.

“Diplomacy is emerging as a wise option for Riyadh,” he stressed. As “for Iran, it is to improve relations with Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Read more: PM Khan recalls his conciliatory efforts to ease Saudi-Iran tensions

But Farzam pointed out that many fundamental differences must be overcome in order for the two countries to improve relations.

“Therefore, it is unlikely that these negotiations will lead to successful results that will close the gap between the two countries.”

Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk