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Iran says it and Saudi Arabia interested in more talks

Person, Human, Flag WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a news conference in Tehran, Iran, June 26, 2022
  • Tehran gave update as President Biden landed in Israel
  • Tehran and Riyadh severed ties in 2016
  • Saudi foreign minister said in May some progress had taken place

Iran and Saudi Arabia are interested in holding more talks, Tehran’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday, three months after a fifth round of contacts aimed at restoring relations between the Middle East’s two main rival powers.

Tehran gave an update on the status of the talks as US President Joe Biden landed in Israel in a high-stakes Middle East trip that will include Saudi Arabia. Both countries are US allies while Iran is a longtime adversary of Washington.

Tehran and Riyadh, the leading Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim powers in the Middle East, severed ties in 2016 with both parties backing opposide sides in proxy wars across the region, from Yemen to Syria and elsewhere.

“Our conclusion is that the negotiations have been positive. Both sides are interested in a continuation of the meetings,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani told a televised weekly news conference.

“The delay in holding the next round of talks between Tehran and Riyadh is due to efforts (being made) to take an important step forward at the next meeting in Baghdad,” he said.

In May, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said there had been some progress in the Iraq-mediated talks with Iran but “not enough”.

The fifth round of the talks was held in April after Iran suspended the negotiations in March without giving a reason, but the decision came on the heels of Saudi Arabia’s execution of 81 prisoners, its biggest mass use of the death penalty in decades.

Iran condemned the executions, which according to rights activists included 41 Shi’ite Muslims.

US officials say Biden’s trip – his first to the Middle East as president – could yield more steps toward normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, historic foes but also two of America’s strongest allies in the turbulent region.