DUBAI – Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said that he had held a positive and constructive meeting with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister in Riyadh on Tuesday as the two rivals seek to counter militants in Iraq.
Abdollahian's visit is the first by a senior Iranian official for talks with the kingdom since President Hassan Rouhani was elected last summer and pledged to improve Tehran's relations with its Arab neighbours. Whereas, Saudi official media had not reported on Abdollahian's arrival or his talks with Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, a sign of the heightened sensitivities surrounding ties between the two.
"The meeting took place in a very positive and constructive atmosphere," Abdollahian told Reuters by telephone. Saudi and Iran back opposing sides in wars and political struggles in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain, usually along sectarian lines, for influence across the Middle East.
However, both Tehran and Riyadh were aghast at the rapid advances made by Islamic State in June and July and welcomed the departure of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this month. Maliki was a close political ally of Iran but the country's leaders came to see him as a liability after many Iraqis backed the revolt led by Islamic State.
Maliki was seen in Riyadh as being too close to Iran, and the Saudi ruler King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz believed the outgoing prime minister had failed to fulfill promises he made to rein in the power of militias that targeted minority. However, Saudi Arabia remains wary of the incoming Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is from the same political bloc as Maliki, analysts in the kingdom said, and continue to oppose what they see as Iranian interference in Arab countries.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday continued his own visit to Iraq, meeting Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, to whose forces Tehran has supplied weapons in response to the Islamic State advances.