The two countries have not maintained diplomatic relations since 2016, and have multiple open fronts such as the war in Yemen

Mohamed Bin Salman leaves the door open to rapprochement with Iran

PHOTO/ Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS - Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

The arrival of Joe Biden in the White House, as well as the Vienna talks, are causing changes in Middle East geopolitics. Just over a week ago, an alleged meeting between senior Iranian and Saudi officials in Baghdad was leaked with the aim of bringing the two sides closer together. A hitherto unthinkable event that only the arrival of Joe Biden to the US presidency has been able to achieve.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are two regional powers at loggerheads in multiple conflicts, such as Yemen and Syria. Relations between the two countries have been completely broken since 2016, when the escalation of tension between the two countries reached its peak, when Saudi Arabia ordered the execution of a Shiite cleric for alleged dissident actions. Iran responded by storming the Riyadh embassy in Tehran.

Atalayar_Mohamed Bin Salman

Since 2016, the rivalry between the two countries has been in crescendo. Saudi Arabia stands as the leading Sunni Muslim power, while Iran is the largest Shia Muslim country. The two powers have abysmal differences in terms of their objectives in the region.

In the case of the Yemen war, a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Sunni Arab states has been supporting pro-government forces in their war against Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels since 2015. Iran has repeatedly denied that it is supplying weapons to the Houthis, who have stepped up their missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities and oil infrastructure.

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In Syria the situation is similar to that in Yemen: while Iran supports Bashar al-Assad's regime, Saudi Arabia has offered support to the opposition. The Gulf kingdom has also accused Iran of interfering in Lebanon and Iraq through militias such as Hezbollah. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has been totally opposed to a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, as well as the Islamic Republic's rejection of the apparent rapprochement between Israel and the Saudi government.

Given this situation, a rapprochement between the two powers seemed more than unlikely, but it was the Kingdom's own strongman, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), who confirmed this possibility. "Iran is a neighbouring country. All we ask is to have a good and distinguished relationship with Iran. We don't want the situation with Iran to be difficult," he said during a nationally broadcast interview on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Vision 2030 programme.

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Regarding the Persian country, the crown prince added: "Our problem is Iran's negative behaviour, from its nuclear programme, to its support for outlawed militias in the region, to its launching of ballistic missiles". A very different tone to the one he had used in previous years when he went so far as to compare Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to Adolf Hitler.

During the interview he also made reference to the relationship with the United States, whose good relations have been called into question with the change of administration. Joe Biden decided to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of its involvement in the war in Yemen. But the hardest blow was the publication of a CIA report that held Bin Salman directly responsible for the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

MBS wanted to dispel all these doubts and during the interview he stressed that "we are more than 90% in agreement with the Biden Administration when it comes to Saudi and American interests, and we are working to strengthen these interests", to which he added "there is no doubt that the United States is a strategic partner".

Atalayar_Arabia Saudí 2030

Throughout the interview, Bin Salman, in addition to clarifying important aspects of the Arab country's foreign policy, also referred to the reforms being carried out in the Kingdom and emphasised the heavy dependence of the country's economy on oil.

"Oil has largely supported the Kingdom's economy for many years, but continued dependence on oil affects the future, and there are huge opportunities in Saudi Arabia outside the oil sector." That is why Saudi Arabia plans to sell stakes in state oil company Aramco to foreign investors as part of efforts to attract foreign investment in the energy sector and reduce dependence on it.

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