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Iran official says held 'constructive' talks in Saudi Arabia

Hossein Amir Abdollahian’s visit is the first by a senior Iranian official for talks with the kingdom since Rowhani was elected

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Iran’s deputy foreign minister said he had held a “positive and constructive” meeting with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister in Riyadh on Tuesday as the two rivals seek to counter Islamist militants in Iraq.

Hossein Amir Abdollahian’s visit is the first by a senior Iranian official for talks with the kingdom since moderate President Hassan Rowhani was elected last summer and pledged to improve Tehran’s frosty relations with its Arab neighbors.

“The meeting took place in a very positive and constructive atmosphere,” Abdollahian told Reuters by telephone.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran back opposing sides in wars and political struggles in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain, usually along sectarian lines, and vie for influence across the Middle East.

However, both Tehran and Riyadh were aghast at the rapid advances made by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June and July and welcomed the departure of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this month.

Maliki was a close political ally of Iran but the country’s leaders came to see him as a liability after many Sunni Iraqis backed the revolt led by ISIS.

Maliki was seen in Riyadh as being too close to Iran, and Saudi King Abdullah believed the outgoing prime minister had failed to fulfill promises he made to rein in the power of Shiite militias that targeted Sunnis.

However, Saudi Arabia remains wary of the incoming Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who is from the same political bloc as Maliki, analysts in the kingdom say, and continue to oppose what they see as Iranian interference in Arab countries.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday continued his own visit to Iraq, meeting Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, to whose forces Tehran has supplied weapons in response to ISIS advances.