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Rai al-Youm: Zarif-Jubeir Handclasp Heralds Change in Saudi Approach

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) and his Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir (L), had a short encounter in Istanbul on August 2 on the sidelines of an OIC meeting. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) and his Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir (L), had a short encounter in Istanbul on August 2 on the sidelines of an OIC meeting.

The handshake by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir, on Tuesday is the latest in a series of recent signals indicating the Saudis’ will to mend fences with Iran and avoid a costly confrontation, a prominent Arab journalist believes.

The encounter came on the sidelines of an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul on recent tensions in the occupied Palestinian city of Beit-ul-Moqaddas, a shared concern of the two regional powers.

Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of the London-based online newspaper Rai al-Youm, wrote in an article published on Wednesday 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.

Iranians started flying to Saudi Arabia for this year’s pilgrimage on Sunday.

They were absent last year due to what Iranians officials described as the Saudi failure to provide credible security assurances, after a tragic stampede during the 2015 hajj killing hundreds of Iranians.

Atwan said a surprise trip by Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr to the Arab kingdom and the high-profile reception he was accorded constitute a second indication of Saudis opting for better Iran ties.

The visit by Sadr, who wields great influence in the Iraqi Parliament and commands a large militant group, came at the invitation of Saudi Defense Minister Muhammad bin Salman, who last month was elevated to the position of crown prince by the 81-year-old King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Atwan said these developments would not have been possible without more flexibility on the part of the two sides, particularly Saudi Arabia, and its will to replace the “media war” with “dialogue and diplomacy”.

“Had the Saudi leadership not shown the green light to Jubeir and not been willing to reduce tensions with Iran, the Saudi foreign minister would not have shaken hands with Zarif in front of cameras,” he said.

 Detente Bodes Well for Region

The handclasp was a surprise for many and photos of the two top diplomats greeting each other went viral on social media. The Tuesday encounter was not their first as foreign ministers, as Zarif and Jubeir had met at least once in 2015 on the sidelines of a Vienna meeting on the settlement of Syrian crisis.

Iranian media quoted Zarif as explaining on Tuesday that the move was within “diplomatic conventions” and a sign of “mutual respect and longstanding friendship with Jubeir”.

Analysts believe a normalization of ties between the two powerhouses could have profound impact on the region deeply embroiled in conflicts, particularly the lingering crises in Syria and Yemen.

The two countries are locked in a bitter feud since Salman ascended to the throne in January 2015.

Under the new king, Saudi Arabia has abandoned its traditionally conservative foreign policy and taken an aggressive position on Iran, accusing it of sponsoring terrorism and aspiring to dominate the region. Saudis cut ties with Iran early 2016 and tensions between the two countries remain high.Iran has frequently called for dialogue aimed at settling differences, but its overtures have been rejected by Saudis.

 

 

 

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