Saudi Arabia confirms first round of talks with new Iranian government

Longtime foes Saudi Arabia and Iran, who severed ties in 2016, began talks in April, at a time when Washington and Tehran were discussing reviving a nuclear pact that Riyadh had opposed.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan al-Saud attends the Conference on Disarmament at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 24, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan al-Saud attends the Conference on Disarmament at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 24, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Saudi Arabia confirmed on Sunday it had held its first round of direct talks with Iran's new government last month, part of a process begun earlier this year to reduce tension between the Gulf's rival Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim powers.

The longtime foes who severed ties in 2016 began talks in April, at a time when Washington and Tehran were discussing reviving a nuclear pact that Riyadh and its allies had opposed.

Three rounds of Saudi-Iranian talks were held in Iraq in the months before Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, took office in August.

Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud said the latest round had taken place on Sept. 21. He did not give the location of the meeting. The date coincides with a speech by Raisi at the UN General Assembly in New York.

"These discussions are still in the exploratory phase. We hope they will provide a basis to address unresolved issues between the two sides and we will strive and work to realize that," he told a joint news conference.

 Iran's President's Ebrahim Raisi remotely addresses the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly by pre-recorded video in New York City, US, September 21, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/EDUARDO MUNOZ/POOL) Iran's President's Ebrahim Raisi remotely addresses the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly by pre-recorded video in New York City, US, September 21, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/EDUARDO MUNOZ/POOL)

Saudi Arabia and Iran have backed opposing sides in regional conflicts and political disputes in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq for years, and Saudi Arabia has led an Arab coalition waging war against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen since 2015.

Riyadh and Tehran have both said they hope the talks can ease tensions, while playing down expectations of a major diplomatic breakthrough. Iran did not immediately comment on the Sept. 21 round of talks. Riyadh has said it would judge the government of Raisi by the reality on the ground.

Former US President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement under which Iran had accepted curbs to its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions. Tehran responded by violating some of its terms.

Indirect talks involving the United States and Iran on reviving that pact were put on hold in June and have yet to resume under Raisi. Western powers have urged Iran to return to the negotiations.

Prince Faisal was speaking during a visit to Riyadh by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who said he had briefed his partners on the prospects for restarting the nuclear talks.