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Iran’s overtures to its Arab neighbors

In a move toward improved relations, Arab media have welcomed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s removal of Hossein Amir Abdollahian

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Published: Updated:

In a move toward improved relations, Arab media have welcomed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s removal of Hossein Amir Abdollahian, his deputy for Arab and African affairs, who is unpopular in the Arab world. Hossain Jaberi Ansari, now former spokesman for Zarif, will replace Abdollahian in order to restore ties with Arab neighbors and make a fresh start on Syria talks.

This change has brought relief in the Arab world, and a sense that Iran is finally willing to have deeper political engagement regarding Syria. Abdollahian, seen as close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is blamed for the current sour relations between Tehran and Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. His replacement is considered a friendly diplomat, served as ambassador to Libya, and speaks fluent Arabic.

For the United Sates, which has been tapping Tehran for further political engagement regarding Syria, this change provides an opportunity to propose another round of talks with Iran and Saudi Arabia present. Some observers believe that Zarif’s recent trip to Oslo, and the meetings he had with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, generated this change.

The removal of Abdollahian, who has harshly attacked Saudi regional policy, signals to Riyadh, which wants to renew ties with Iran, that Tehran is extending its hand

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Diplomatic progress regarding Syria has been hampered by tensions between Tehran and Riyadh. The removal of Abdollahian, who has harshly attacked Saudi regional policy, signals to Riyadh, which wants to renew ties with Iran, that Tehran is extending its hand.

Building trust

Another important change is Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, becoming coordinator of political, military and intelligence proceedings with Damascus and Moscow regarding Syria.

He has a good reputation in the Arab world and is popular, so he will be able to build trust among Arab leaders. During the recent meeting of Syrian, Russian and Iranian defense ministers in Tehran, Shamkhani expressed Tehran’s desire for a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

Shifting the focus from military policy to diplomacy by making these appointments is the start for Iran to resuming talks with Saudi Arabia. However, this will not be easy because Iranian hardliners are complaining about Abdollahian’s removal. The Fars News website, which is close to the IRGC, tweeted that his removal, and the meeting between Zarif and Kerry, “will weaken the resistance,” referring to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
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Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.