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Saudi Diplomats To Visit Iran Heralding Thaw In Ties


Flames rise from Saudi Arabia's embassy after it was stormed by Iranian protesters during a demonstration in Tehran, January 2, 2016

Tehran has confirmed a report by Kuwaiti daily, Al Jareeda that a Saudi Arabian delegation is to visit Iran in the near future.

The confirmation made by foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi on Sunday, August 3, came after Al Jareeda reported a day earlier that Saudi officials would make the trip following the Islamic festivities of Eid al-Adha, which will wrap up on Monday.

Al Jareeda, citing an unnamed “informed Iranian source” said, “Saudi diplomatic delegation will assess damages to the Kingdom’s embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad”.

However, Bahram Qassemi denied that Saudi mission is connected to the question of damages or compensation.

Insisting that the question of compensation was never raised during the two sides recent discussions, Qassemi noted, “"The Saudi delegation simply comes to visit its diplomatic buildings since the buildings have been empty after the two countries severed their diplomatic relations. At the same time, we will also visit our buildings in Saudi Arabia".

Nevertheless, according to Al Jareeda’s Iranian source, “The Saudi delegation wanted to meet judges and officials in charge of following up on the attacks, which damaged Riyadh’s embassy in Tehran and its General Consulate in the city of Mashhad [in January 2016]…but the Iranian foreign ministry claimed it could not arrange the meetings, a claim that did not please the Saudis”.

Reportedly, the Iranian source also maintained, “The Saudis had expressed anger over the slow pace of the Iranians in issuing visas for the delegation members”.

Nonetheless, Qassemi lobbed the ball back into Riyadh’s court, noting, “The visas for the Saudis have been issued long before, but for reasons related to them, they have not come yet, and their travel has likely been postponed until after Hajj”.

Qassemi reiterated that the Iranian delegation got their visas through Oman two weeks ago, and Iran issued the visas for the Saudi delegation two months ago.

The Saudi delegation wanted to meet judges and officials in charge of following up on the attacks, which damaged Riyadh’s embassy in Tehran and its General Consulate in the city of Mashhad [in January 2016]…but the Iranian foreign ministry claimed it could not arrange the meetings, a claim that did not please the Saudis.
Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jareeda citing an unnamed Iranian source

Iranian-Saudi diplomatic relations were severed after Saudis executed a Shi’a cleric, Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr in January, 2016 and mobs stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in the city of Mashhad, in northeastern Iran.

Moreover, while Tehran is openly supporting Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Riyadh is assisting some of the insurgents, in Syria. Vice versa, in Yemen, Saudis are backing the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, while Iran supports Shi’a Houthi rebels.

In the meantime, the two sides have repeatedly accused each other of meddling in each other’s internal affairs.

Tehran and Riyadh relations stayed strained until August 1 when Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubair met in Istanbul, Turkey. The two reportedly embraced each other, 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.

According to a report filed on Sunday by the Iranian English speaking channel, Press TV, “More than 80,000 Iranian pilgrims are now in Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites, after they avoided the trip last year because Riyadh failed to provide assurances about their safety”.

The return of Iranian pilgrims followed painstaking negotiations between officials from the two countries, Iranian local media reported.

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that if all goes smoothly, the pilgrimage could set the stage for further talks. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also said last month that Tehran and Riyadh were preparing to exchange diplomatic visits.

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