A familiar face can strengthen Saudi-Iranian ties

Since my departure from Iran in 2000, I have spent a great deal of time in the Arab world and somehow understand why Arab politicians usually are cautious opening up to Tehran. Culturally, Iranians can’t directly address issues that should be directly addressed. They must be understood through layers upon layers of meaning and body language implications. When it comes to politics, this certainly gets complicated.

Powerful Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia seem to have had difficulties in understanding the new Iranian regime’s mentality since Iran’s foreign policy has always been subject to changes since the revolution of 1979.

It is no secret that Tehran-Riyadh relations have soured due to regional power plays plus Iran’s perceived meddling in internal Arab affairs

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

The animosity between Iran and the U.S., which the Arab Gulf countries have gotten used to over the years, is not new to them. However, with each renewed round of tension, the Arab neighbors shiver too. When Iran and the U.S. threaten each other with military confrontation, and when Iran threatened to close off access to the Strait of Hormuz, neighboring countries will be jeopardized.

All this makes Iran’s relations with its Arab neighbors very difficult and challenging.

No major headway

When I speak to Arab politicians and elite policy makers and ask them why they have not made major headway in forging relations with Iran since Hassan Rowhani’s election last year, they tell me that there has not been any significant proof to show changes are being made.

Tehran has armed, trained and backed up some of the region’s most notorious militia over the years and now it’s difficult for regional countries to believe that all of a sudden Iran has changed its foreign policy. Iran and the West’s, or perhaps it is better to say Iran and the United States’, interim agreement regarding Tehran’s controversial nuclear program eased the tension in the region for sure, however, more of the country’s regional foreign policies need to be seen before a final judgment can be made.

In light of November’s interim agreement, it seems as though Tehran boosted its efforts to improve its relations with Arab neighbors, specifically Saudi Arabia.

Souring relations

It is no secret that Tehran-Riyadh relations have soured due to regional power plays plus Iran’s perceived meddling in internal Arab affairs. Also, a bizarre plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington D.C. in 2011 by a hired car-salesman from Texas, who was convicted in a New York court last year, remains a bone of contention. Iran denies playing any part in the plots but international media widely reported that the plot was linked to the country, further troubling relations.

Going back to the point I opened with at the beginning, Iran’s new pick for the role of ambassador to Saudi Arabia is a friendly face. This is a positive sign. Hussein Sadeghi served as Iran’s ambassador in Riyadh when Mohammad Khatami was the president and the two countries shared positive relations during that period.

Ambassador Sadeghi was replaced when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad become president and Iran’s foreign policy changed drastically. Sending the same man back to Riyadh can be interpreted as Tehran’s interest in improving relations and restoring them. Saudi Arabia welcomed Iran’s choices and seemed to approve of Sadeghi’s appointment, who has been said to be close to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Rowhani and is apparently trusted by Saudi politicians too, according to my contacts. Simply put, Saudi Arabia accepted this friendship request by Iran and the next chapter is going to open up between the two countries if Iran successfully reaches the comprehensive nuclear deal with the West ( Five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany famously called P5+1) by the end of this year and cooperates with Saudi Arabia in regional matters.


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

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:42 - GMT 06:42
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