As another sign pointing to the possibility of improvement in Tehran-Riyadh diplomatic relations, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif declared on Wednesday, August 23, “Diplomatic delegations of Iran and Saudi Arabia are scheduled to visit each other’s embassies in Tehran and Riyadh after Hajj ceremonies”.
Zarif, during an interview with Iran Students News Agency, ISNA, said the visas for the two sides’ visits have been issued and final steps towards implementing the plan are being taken.
Iran’ s foreign minister predicted that the visits would probably take place after Hajj ceremonies.
"We have always emphasized that we are ready to have a dialogue with Saudi Arabia to resolve the crises in the region, whereas Riyadh unfortunately did not do this and sees its interests in creating tension in the region," ISNA cited Zarif as saying.
Tehran-Saudi Riyadh’s diplomatic relations were severed after Saudis executed a Shi’a cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in January, 2016 and mobs stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in the city of Mashhad, in northeastern Iran.
Saudis condemned the attack as a flagrant violation of international law and a clear sign of Iran’s hostility toward Riyadh. Tehran tried to downplay the attack by describing it as a spontaneous reaction of a mob to Sheikh Nimr’s execution. Nevertheless, Riyadh did not buy into Tehran’s official description of the attack and called it an orchestrated hostile move toward Saudis interest.
In May 2017, Zarif went further and labelled the attack as “treason” aimed at disrupting the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA or Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
“On the very day when the embassy was attacked, the Supreme Council of National Security was meeting to discuss the danger of an attack on the embassy. You can be sure that if this stupidity or in my view, this historic treason had not happened, today the situation would be different", Zarif was quoted as saying.
However, Saudis remained unsatisfied.
The relations stayed strained until August 1 when Zarif and his Saudi counterpart met in Istanbul. The two shook hands and the move was immediately described as the latest in a series of recent signs indicating a willingness on the part of Tehran and Riyadh to mend fences.
In his latest interview, Zarif emphasized that this handshake during the sidelines of the meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul, Turkey, reflected the two sides desire for a rapprochement.
Zarif has also repeatedly insisted that the handshake has not been the result of Iraqi, including Moqtada Sadr’s efforts to help Tehran and Riyadh retain their mutual understanding.
“The policy that Saudi Arabia is pursuing in Iraq had no relation with this encounter. This was just a simple greeting,” Zarif was quoted as saying.