Saudi Arabia is ready to work out a rapprochement with rival Iran, Iraqi interior minister revealed, adding that he has been chosen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to mediate between the two countries.
Qassim al-Araji told his Iranian counterpart that Riyadh is eager to bridge rivalry between the two countries, The New Arab reports.
“The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has formally asked me to mediate with Iran to curb the tension between the two countries,” he said during a news conference on Sunday.
Al-Araji also pointed out that Saudi Arabia indicated that it would treat positively Iranian pilgrims and allow them to visit the cemetery of Baqi.
“Respect for Iranian pilgrims is very important for Tehran,” he said, adding that Iran is always seeking to strengthen its relations with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have been competing for influence in the region, accusing each other of supporting terrorism. The two have waged proxy wars in Yemen and Syria, backing opposed sides.
Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran last year in January after mobs attacked and ransacked its diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad following the execution of top Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr.
Iran condemned the attacks and 10 people charged with attacking the missions have been handed various prison sentences ranging from six months to three years.
Riyadh had also accused Teheran of pushing a Shia agenda in Iraq. But the Kingdom has recently renewed ties with Iran-backed Shia forces in Iraq.
Al-Araji, himself an Iran-backed Iraqi leader, and a senior leader of the Popular Mobilisation Forces known in Arabic as al-Hashd al-Shaabi, visited Riyadh mid-July at the request of Saudi authorities “to discuss important topics”.
Another prominent Iran-backed Iraqi leader, Moqtada Sadr met with the Saudi Crown Prince last month, a move deemed as an evidence of Iraq Shia’s distance from rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Teheran.
During the news conference, Al-Araji noted that rapprochement between the two rivals will contribute “to strengthening security in the region”.
During the OIC meeting over the situation in Jerusalem held in Istanbul early August, the Saudi and Iranian Foreign Ministers, Adel Jubeir and Javad Zarif, shook hands and the Iranian news agency ISNA noted then that the two top diplomats have had a friendly exchange on the sidelines of the event.
Many analysts saw in the handshake a change in the Saudi approach regarding relations with Iran and another signal that Riyadh is willing “to mend fences with Iran and avoid a costly confrontation”, as stated by Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of the London-based online newspaper Rai al-Youm.
The prominent Arab journalist had commented that the return of Iranian pilgrims to hajj this year was “the first positive sign” that raised hopes of tensions easing between the two countries.