Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed hope during a visit to Lebanon on Friday that diplomatic ties between Tehran and Riyadh could be restored through dialogue between the two regional rivals.
Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran in January 2016 after Riyadh executed Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr and protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran and consulate in the second city of Mashhad.
Amir-Abdullahian told a news conference in Beirut that “we are ready to restore relations” and that such a move would have “positive consequences for the entire region”.
He also hailed a potential reconciliation between Iran’s ally Syria and Turkey after their defense ministers met last month.
Iran and Saudi Arabia support opposing sides in various conflicts in the region, including Syria.
Amir-Abdullahian said the first step would be to resume talks on reopening the Iranian consulate in Jeddah and the Saudi Arabian consulate in Mashhad for citizens interested in religious travel.
“But as we see, Saudi Arabia is not fully ready to work on normalizing relations,” he told reporters.
Since April 2021, Iraq has held a series of meetings between the two sides, but no meetings have been publicly announced since April 2022.
Amir-Abdullahian said last July that previous talks had been held mainly at the level of security officials and that Iran was open to talks at a high-level “political stage”.
But after nationwide protests erupted in Iran in September, Tehran accused Riyadh of “friendly behavior” and encouraging the movement.
Iran holds sway over political life in Lebanon and Iraq, where it also supports armed groups.
Amir-Abdullahian met with officials on Friday, including his counterpart Abdullah Bou Habib and Acting Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
He also held talks with Hassan Nasrallah, chief of the powerful pro-Iranian Shiite movement Hezbollah.
According to a Hezbollah statement, they discussed “potential threats arising from the formation of a government of corrupt and extremists” in Israel.
– ‘Positive Consequences’ –
Lebanon’s southern neighbor inaugurated the most moderate government in the country’s history in late December, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The move has sparked heightened tensions between Israel and Palestinian groups and fears of a potential military escalation in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The pro-Syrian government Al-Watan newspaper said Amir-Abdullahian is scheduled to visit ally Damascus on Saturday, amid warming relations between Syria and Turkey.
“We are happy with this dialogue between Syria and Turkey,” said Amir-Abdullahian.
“We believe that this dialogue will have positive consequences that will benefit both these countries.”
Ankara has long supported rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But after more than a decade of war that has seen Damascus regain territory backed by Russia and Iran, relations between Syria and Turkey have begun to thaw.
In late December, Syrian and Turkish defense ministers held landmark talks in Moscow — the first meeting since 2011.
Assad said on Thursday that a Moscow-brokered reconciliation with Turkey should aim for Ankara’s “end of occupation” in parts of Syria.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that the defense ministers’ meeting will be followed by talks between the three countries’ top diplomats.
The poignant reconciliation alarmed Syrian opposition leaders and supporters who live in parts of the mostly war-torn country under Ankara’s indirect control.