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EDITORIAL: After six years of animosity towards each other Iran and Saudi Arabia are about to shake hands, reactivate embassies in each other’s capital and possibly jointly work to strengthen regional stability.

And the common friend at work for this is Iraq, which shares socio-economic and political commonalities with both sides – unlike the times of Saddam Husein who would take pride in posing himself as custodian of the pro-Arab anti-Ajam history of conflicts.

But the present inheritors of Saddam’s pride think differently as they know firsthand consequences of partisan politics in the Gulf region. They want the leaderships of the two regional powers to sit together and sort out their differences on the diplomatic table.

And given that peace in Yemen, brokered by the United Nations, still holds there is a fair chance of Iran and Saudi Arabia turning the page on their bitter relationship. On this past Sunday, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi visited Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran after his meeting with Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

His visits to the erstwhile rival leaderships constituted culmination of Baghdad’s consistent contacts with both to help revive their contacts that are almost non-existent since the two countries closed their embassies in the wake of violence that erupted following the execution of a noted Shite cleric in July 2016 in Saudi Arabia.

President Raisi appeared to have welcomed Baghdad’s mediation effort, saying: ’’We stressed the need for regional leaders to negotiate with one another to resolve regional problems’’. The Saudi stance on this, as Prince Mohammad said in March, is that his country and Iran are ‘’neighbours forever’’ and it is ‘’better for both of us to work it out and look for ways in which we can co-exist’’.

But the proof of pudding is in its eating. Will the Iraqi mission to bridge up the gaps of mistrust between Iran and Saudi Arabia, fed as these are by historical hostility and regional geopolitics, bear fruit? Given Prince Mohammad’s mission ostensibly aimed at harmonizing the perceptions and perspectives hosted by his government and public with existing global socio-political realities and the Iranian president’s efforts to gradually give up on his country’s uncompromising mindset on regional geo-politics, is it the personal perceptions and their notions about regional peace at work? Or, are these considered long-term state policies? That we don’t know because threats to this emerging bonhomie are no less fragile.

Of the issues which can test the durability of Iran-Saudi Arabia warm- up the two most critical are normalization with Israel and Iran’s nuclear programme. That the Arab states are quite generous towards Israel is a fact.

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords a number of Arab states have established diplomatic relations with Israel, and if Saudi Arabia hasn’t done yet it may give it serious thought in the light of US President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit. But Iran’s President is against “all forms of rapprochement” with Israel.

Saudi Arabia also has concerns about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. And the Arab world is expected to draw satisfaction in the wake of resumption of nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers to confine its nuclear programme to peaceful use of nuclear technology.

But the Arab countries of the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, can derive satisfaction from good news that Iran’s indirect talks with the US on reviving the 2015 nuclear pact are going to take place very soon.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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