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Saudi foreign minister ‘hopeful’ over exploratory talks with Iran

Published: Updated:

Saudi Arabia foreign minister says Kingdom is “hopeful” after exploratory talks with Iran, in a rare comment on delicate discussions whose details have been closely guarded.

The official-level meetings aim to restore relations severed five years ago between the Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Shia Islamic Republic of Iran.

“We have initiated some exploratory talks. They are at a very early stage but we are hopeful,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan said in Paris on Tuesday, where he is participating in two international summits.

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The talks with Iran, facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, had remained secret until the Financial Times reported that a first meeting had been held in Baghdad on April 9.

The Iranian government only confirmed on May 10 that the talks had been held, adding that it was “too soon” to discuss the results.

“If (the Iranians) can see that their interest is in a good relationship with their neighbors, I can be hopeful,” Prince Faisal said, emphasizing again that they were “at an early stage.”

Asked what the impact of the June presidential elections in Iran might be, he said he thought it would be minimal.

“Our understanding of Iran’s foreign policy is that it’s set by the Supreme Leader,” he explained. “So we don’t think there will be a substantial change.”

“There may be a change in the representatives that portray that policy, but in the end, it’s what happens on the ground that matters, and that is driven by the Supreme Leader.”

On May 7, a Saudi foreign ministry official said that talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran aim to reduce regional tensions, but added it was too early to judge the outcome and Riyadh wanted to see “verifiable deeds.”

The comments by Ambassador Rayed Krimly, head of policy planning at the ministry, were the first public confirmation from Riyadh that the rivals - who severed ties in 2016 - were holding direct talks.

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