From enemies to friends? Iran, Saudi Arabia playing nice as nuclear talks falter

Iran reveals five rounds of “positive and progressive” talks with Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, possibly signaling Gulf kingdom’s new approach towards its one-time enemy as nuclear negotiations appear to fail.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

As talks aimed at coaxing Iran back into a nuclear deal appear to be irreconcilably stalled, with Hebrew-language media reporting that the U.S. is set to make a formal announcement ending negotiations in the near future, some of Iran’s regional rivals appear to be gearing up to a different approach to mitigating the Iranian nuclear threat.

The Gulf kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the U.S., has engaged in five rounds of “progressive and positive” talks with Iran in recent weeks, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman told media on Monday.

The talks, which reportedly took place in Baghdad, “raised hopes for the two countries to take a step towards the resumption of relations,” the Iranian official said.

“These [nuclear] talks are almost doomed for failure,” said Mohammed Alyahya, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, told CNN.

“At its core, the problem is not one between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it is between Iran and the U.S. Iran attacks the kingdom because it perceives it to be a client state of an American imperial order.”

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Saudi Arabia and Iran have had a frosty relationship for years, formally severing diplomatic ties after the execution of a Shi’ite cleric in the Gulf kingdom in 2016. After the execution, Iranian protesters forced their way into the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran.

The two regional powers have been engaged in a proxy war in Yemen in recent years, with Shia Houthi rebels in the embattled country’s southern region being materially supported by Iran and launching missiles at Saudi Arabia.

In return, Saudi Arabia has launched a widespread bombing campaign of Houthi sites in Yemen, which some sources say have led to the deaths of approximately 150,000 civilians — including those dying of starvation and illness caused by the destruction of physical infrastructure and agriculture in the country.

The reported reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia is occurring as the U.S. appears to be losing much of its sway in the international arena.

In March 2022, the Wall Street Journal reported that the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ignored calls from Biden, apparently due to their frustration over the Iran nuclear deal and a perceived lack of U.S. response to Houthi terrorist attacks originating in southern Yemen.

“There was some expectation of a phone call [between Biden and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman] but it didn’t happen,” a senior U.S. official told WSJ.

“It was part of turning on the spigot [of Saudi oil]” on the heels of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The source added that UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed also ignored a call from Biden.

What about Israel?

The revelation that Saudi Arabia and Iran are strengthening their ties comes on the heels of other Gulf Arab kingdoms, including Bahrain and the UAE, warming up to Israel. Some analysts have attributed the Iranian threat as a factor that encouraged Abraham Accords participants to publicly align themselves with the Jewish State after decades of no diplomatic relations.

In recent years, Hebrew-language media reported that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had secretly met with Saudi officials, including Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to discuss strategies for mitigating the Iranian nuclear threat.

With Iran repeatedly pledging to destroy Israel and framing the “Zionist entity” as its mortal enemy, it’s unclear how a warming relationship with Saudi Arabia will affect other regional powers’ approach towards Israel.