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Tehran-Riyadh Diplomatic Exchange Bellwether of Regional Détente

Tehran-Riyadh Diplomatic Exchange Bellwether of Regional DétenteTehran-Riyadh Diplomatic Exchange Bellwether of Regional Détente

A planned exchange of diplomatic visits by Iran and Saudi Arabia could be the initial step on the reconciliation path, which bodes well for the two nations and also for a region deeply embroiled in conflicts, a lawmaker believes.

Iran's top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, announced last week that visas have been issued for diplomats from the two countries to visit and inspect their embassies and consulates.

Zarif said the trips would probably happen after this year's hajj, which started on Monday and takes a week.  

Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran in 2016, after a long period of strained relations. Since then, tensions between the two countries have remained at high levels.

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh also told ICANA on Tuesday he has seen indications of a will to have a change of heart in the Saudi government, which has shown fanatical bellicosity toward Tehran since King Salman took the throne early 2015.

"Saudi Arabia has separated the hajj issue from political relations and its differences with Tehran, showing an early step to de-escalate tensions in the region," said the legislator, who is a member of Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission.

Thousands of faithful Iranians are currently in Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage, after their absence last year.  

The two governments could not reach a hajj deal in 2016, after what Iran described the Saudi failure to provide security assurances following a deadly 2015 hajj stampede in which 464 Iranians died.

  Spurned Overtures

Another signal that Tehran-Riyadh tensions might ease came early this month, when Zarif and his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir shook hands in a rare encounter on the sidelines of a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.

The schism between the Islamic Republic and the oil-rich monarchy has myriad roots, ranging from the type of governments to their interpretations of Islam.    

The fissure has been rapidly widening in the past couple of years, as the two governments have been backed opposing sides in several regional conflicts, including those in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Qatar.

Tehran has frequently invited its southern neighbor to engage in dialogue on their differences and called for cooperation in forming mechanisms to restore calm to the chaotic region.

But Iran's calls have so far fallen on deaf ears of Riyadh, which accuses Iran of subverting security in the region and aspiring to dominate it.

Falahatpisheh said the apparent Saudi will to revise its course could be attributed to its growing sense of pessimism toward the US, on which it has relied to ensure its security for decades.

"Saudis have found that US President Donald Trump is not trustworthy," he said, adding that they have seemingly come to the conclusion that it cannot rely on US assistance to advance its regional policies, even after signing hundreds of billions of dollars in arms purchase and investment deals with the US.

The contracts were signed in Riyadh in May during the first overseas trip by Trump, the capricious US president who as a candidate had lashed out at Saudi Arabia as a leading supporter of terrorism and a key contributor of regional turmoil.

Iranian officials described the contracts as a successful US attempt at "milking" the kingdom.

Falahatpisheh said Saudi failures in achieving regional goals, particularly in Yemen and Syria, are another factor leading the Arab government to take a pragmatic approach for mending fences with Iran.

"If this path is continued, many issues of the Muslim world will be solved and the outside powers will be cut off from the region," he said.

 

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