Saudi ready to negotiate with Iran: FM

Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has invited his Iranian counterpart to visit Riyadh

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Saudi Arabia is ready to negotiate improved relations with its regional rival Iran, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters in response to a question on Tuesday.

See also: OPINION - Saudi Arabia’s desire to negotiate with Iran

Prince al-Faisal added that the kingdom has invited Iran’s foreign minister to visit Riyadh, hinting at a possible thaw between the Gulf’s two biggest powers.

“Iran is a neighbor, we have relations with them and we will negotiate with them,” the Saudi minister told reporters when asked on the issue in Riyadh.

“We will talk with them in the hope that if there are any differences, they will be settled to the satisfaction of both countries,” he said.

“Our hope is that Iran becomes part of the effort to make the region as safe and as prosperous as possible, and not part of the problem of the insecurity of the region.”

Faisal said that his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif had been invited to visit the kingdom.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has visited most of Saudi Arabia’s Gulf Arab allies including Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates since the nuclear pact, which eased some Gulf Arab worries, but has not been to Riyadh.

“This intention to visit has not become a fact..., but any time he sees fit to come, we are willing to receive (Zarif),” Prince Saud said in the Saudi capital Riyadh

Zarif said in December that he would like to visit Saudi Arabia and appealed to the kingdom to work with Tehran in the search for regional “stability.”

Saudi political analyst and writer Jassir al-Jassir described Prince al-Faisal’s announcment as a “bombshell” and a “major shift” in Riyadh’s position toward Iran.

“Iran must have offered something that led Saudi Arabia to open this window of talks,” He said.

Al-Jassir noted that the anticipated meeting between the Saudi foreign minister and his Iranian counterpart “will not be held in vein.”

He said the regional powers could seek agreement on regional issues in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been deeply divided over a number of regional issues, particularly the three-year-old conflict in Syria.

The kingdom supports the Syrian opposition has thrown its weight behind efforts to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

On the opposite, Iran supports the Assad’s regime, backing him with armament, troops and funding.

Faisal’s remarks came as U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was in Saudi Arabia on the first leg of a regional tour focusing on Iran’s nuclear program and the war in Syria.

U.S. officials have struggled to reassure Gulf allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, over the interim nuclear deal that the major powers struck with Tehran late last year and which Riyadh fears will embolden its rival in its regional ambitions.

Washington’s caution about arming the Syrian rebels has also soured its relations with its longtime Saudi ally.

After his election last July on a platform of ending Iran’s international isolation, President Hassan Rowhani said he was particularly keen to reach out to Gulf Arab governments.

[With AFP and Reuters]