DUBAI, Aug 18 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Iran‘s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Friday in the highest-level talks since the countries reconciled in March after years of bitter rivalry that destabilised the region.
The unscheduled meeting in Jeddah comes a day after Amirabdollahian arrived in the kingdom and declared ties between the countries were “on the right track” following talks with his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan.
“Discussions were frank, beneficial and productive,” Amirabdollahian said in a social media post after meeting the de facto Saudi ruler, adding that the countries “agree on the security and development of all in the region”.
Mohammed bin Salman, widely known as MbS, has pushed to reorient Saudi foreign policy in recent years amid troubles in its historically close relationship with the United States.
Footage of the meeting on Iranian state media showed MbS and Amirabdollahian smiling as they spoke, while Prince Faisal and the Iranian delegation looked on. Saudi state news agency SPA said they discussed international and regional developments.
Rivalry between Iran‘s revolutionary, Shi’ite Muslim leaders and Saudi Arabia’s Sunni ruling family dominated the Middle East for years as they competed for influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain amid a wave of sectarian bloodshed.
However, China brokered a rapprochement in March leading to a resumption of full diplomatic relations, which Saudi Arabia had broken off in 2016 when protesters attacked its Tehran embassy over Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric.
Prince Faisal visited Tehran in June and said he hoped Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi would visit the kingdom at the “appropriate time”.
After years of competition, and with some of the main regional arenas for their competition more stable than in previous years, both sides have reason to change tack.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wanted to end political and economic isolation pushed by the United States and saw new relations with Saudi Arabia as a way to do so, Iranian officials have said.
Saudi Arabia had meanwhile lost confidence in U.S. commitment to shared regional security concerns and wanted to bolster ties with China, which has retained good relations with Iran. This month it succeeded in getting China to attend a diplomatic meeting on Ukraine that Beijing had earlier avoided.
Prince Faisal also spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary General Antony Blinken, with the pair discussing more coordination to boost “security and stability in the Middle East region,” Saudi state media reported on Friday.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Mark Potter and Conor Humphries)