Senior Saudi and Iranian security officials are set to resume talks between their two states on Thursday after a seven-month break, UK-based Amwaj media has reported. Riyadh and Tehran had confirmed earlier this year that the talks would go ahead, but without fixing a date.
Amwaj was told by an Arab source that Thursday’s talks, the fifth round of such discussions, would last three to four hours, take place at Baghdad’s international airport and be hosted by Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
According to Amwaj, the agenda will follow the roadmap agreed during talks last September. That includes accelerating the process of re-establishing diplomatic relations, building on the current ceasefire in Yemen and making plans for national reconciliation in that latter country.
Mr Kadhimi has brokered the Saudi-Iranian dialogue, which began a year ago, in a bid to reduce tensions between majority Sunni Saudi Arabia and majority Shia Iran and also between pro-and anti-Iranian factions within Iraq and the wider region.
The talks were suspended after rival Iraqi political parties failed to appoint a new president and prime minister following last October’s parliamentary election. However, fresh challenges during the hiatus appear to have pushed Saudi Arabia and Iran to address differences.
Amwaj says the Iranian representative attending the talks is from Iran’s “national security establishment” and is approved by “the highest office in the country”, meaning the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Saudi Arabia’s envoy is from “the intelligence service level” and approved by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the kingdom.
Until recently the sides have been at odds on two key regional issues. Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has fought to restore the Yemeni government ousted by the rebel Houthi movement, which receives limited support from Iran.
Also, although the kingdom previously opposed the 2015 accord curbing Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions, Saudi Arabia currently backs a return to US and Iranian compliance with the deal. Tehran has pledged to carry out its obligations as soon as the US re-enters the deal.
At present, both Iran and Saudi Arabia promote the current ceasefire between the sides in the Yemen conflict and an end to the stalemate in the Vienna talks on Iran's nuclear programme.
On the international front, neither Riyadh nor Tehran follow US-led western policy which seeks to isolate and sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. This stance aligns them with India and China on the war and relations with Russia.
The Saudi crown prince has been alienated by the Biden administration, which has snubbed him over the 2018 murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, while the US has had hostile relations with Iran since the 1979 overthrow of the shah, a US ally.
Riyadh froze diplomatic relations with Tehran due to violent protests at Saudi consulates in Iran following the 2016 execution of Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who had condemned Sunni Saudi discrimination against Shias and called for free elections in the kingdom.
Modest progress in previous rounds of talks has led to the return of an Iranian delegation to the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation in Riyadh, seen as a first step in reopening embassies.