Iran, Saudi sides continue tension-easing talks in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AP) – Representatives from Iran and Saudi Arabia have held a new round of talks in Baghdad, two Iraqi officials said Monday, in the first such meeting between regional enemies since a new president was sworn in in Tehran.

The meeting held last week discussed “pending issues between the two countries in accordance with a previously agreed roadmap, including diplomatic representation between the two countries,” according to an Iraqi official.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make official statements, said the meeting was not at the ministerial level, but called the talks positive.

Iraq has recently played the role of mediator between the two regional enemies whose rivalry has often had deadly consequences in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

Multiple rounds of discussions have taken place in Baghdad since the first direct talks between Riyadh and Tehran took place in early April. Saudi Arabia has sought talks with Iran as the kingdom tries to end its years-long war in Yemen against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, having lost an unwavering supporter in President Joe Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Iran appears to have calculated that a gradual détente with Saudi Arabia, a longtime US ally, will work to its advantage during renewed nuclear talks with Washington and world powers.

Last month, Baghdad hosted a regional conference that brought together Arab heads of state and senior officials, including the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia. The meeting, aimed at easing tensions in the Middle East, consolidated Baghdad’s new role as a mediator.

Last week’s meeting is the first since hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took office in August. It was unclear how much, if any, progress has been made in the talks.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been regional rivals. Relations worsened considerably in 2016, when Riyadh sacked its diplomats after protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran and the consulate in Mashhad in retaliation for the kingdom’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr.

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