Mohammad Qassem Mohebali said that one of the important issues in the possible negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia is where and how to start the talks, adding that in the case of Saudi Arabia it seems unlikely that low level talks would yield clear results. He said it would be better if some understanding is reached at higher level followed by experts and foreign ministerial meeting to find a framework for resolving the disputes.
The second point, he said, is that Iran and Saudi Arabia are two neighboring countries and while they have common interests on some issues, they also differ on some others. “The two countries are rivals on some issues but one of the issues they both benefit from is the security of the Persian Gulf and the region.”
The strategic affairs analyst added: “The second issue is that of energy and maintaining OPEC; the two OPEC member states are competing with other oil producing and consumer states. Another issue is the solidarity of Islamic and regional countries on joint agendas raised at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) or issues such as Bait ul-Moqaddas (Jerusalem) and the occupation of Palestinian territories or other Islamic topics.
On areas of differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia, he said: “In terms of the two countries influence in the region, Riyadh is completely opposed to Iran’s presence in Arab countries, and even if they had to accept such presence, they want it to be within a framework they could manage themselves and comply with their own policies. This is a serious confrontation demonstrating itself in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and other countries in the southern Persian Gulf.
Pointing out that there are differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the definition of security, its type and quality and how it is ensured, he noted. Other issues that should be taken into account include tribalism, and support for Sunni and Shia movements that are clashing with each other in the region and this position demonstrates itself differently in different countries. In areas the two countries are rivals they should define this rivalry in the form of cooperation. These should be defined and discussed by the parties in the framework of the negotiation agenda.
The former Middle East director general at the MFA also stressed: “Currently both sides are at loss from this situation and other countries that are competitors or enemies with both sides are benefiting a clear example of who are the Israelis. The Americans also benefit by selling weapons and expanding their presence.
He added: The big powers took advantage of this situation and those who had been weakened in the Middle East returned to the region in a divisive atmosphere and have now become part of the administrators in this game. “If Iran and Saudi could reach agreement on a framework both the US influence will decline in the region and the big powers that are interested in getting stronger and seek tension and escalation of regional competitions will become weaker in playing their game.
Regarding the possibility of negotiations between the two countries despite the existing differences, he said: “Even before the (1979) revolution, both Iran and Saudi Arabia did not have close attitudes and competed with each other. But after forty years of tensions and ups and downs in the relations between the two countries and the spread of disagreements and a series of events that have naturally affected the minds of officials, it is difficult to negotiate, plus the regional and transnational interventions of forces opposed to Iran and Saudi Arabia has made the situation difficult.
Mohebali added that the coming to power of a relatively radical government in Saudi Arabia, unlike in the past when Saudi kings and officials were usually conservative and not interested in foreign conflicts and were trying to resolve the issue through dialogue and some form of compromise has made it harder. The rise of Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman led Saudi Arabia to engage in an endless war in Yemen for the first time and as Iran put it adopt radical policies ending in severance of ties between the two countries. Negotiations in such an atmosphere are very difficult. However it cannot be said that diplomacy is closed.
“I think Saudi Arabia is smart enough to know that its interests lie in resolving disputes through dialogue. In Iran too, there has always been a strategy not to make matters with Saudi Arabia so critical to reach the stage of war,” the senior analyst said; because the efforts of other powers and actors in the region at the micro and macro levels are to drag Iran and Saudi Arabia into a hot war. The Israelis are behind this policy, and extremist groups in the region, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS are making the most of it, and radicalism is in their favor.
He added: “Radical and hardline sectors in the United States, arms dealers and those currently playing a key role in power, are seeking to drag the two Islamic powers to war with one another and pursue their own greedy goals. In these tough times, both the authorities in the two countries are interested in finding a way out, and there are countries in the region that can help, such as Oman and Iraq, and even some intermediaries in the region can exchange the goodwill of the two countries; Because they also benefit from negotiations between the two countries. That is, if the situation in Iran and Saudi Arabia improves, the situation in Iraq will improve and security tensions and conflicts in Iraq will decrease, as in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.
“The Arab states in the South of the Persian Gulf like Kuwait, Oman and even Qatar are benefiting from this situation, while Iran and Saudi Arabia themselves can communicate directly at the political levels that are significant. Nevertheless, regional powers and governments can do so if they find it appropriate to help the region move towards peace.”
On some news reports that Iraq is trying to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia, he said: “In order to convey the wishes and intentions of both sides, the Iraqis can do that as well as the Omanis; but I think it’s better if Iran and Saudi Arabia spoke directly as they cannot rely too much on the mediators in the region, given that they are looking for some interests. They can transmit the message, and perhaps if they do so, it will further Iran’s interests.
In conclusion, the senior Middle East analyst said it is not possible to ignore the devastating role of Americans and their interests in the region, adding that Iran could improve relations with Saudi Arabia at the same time as a policy of détente in parallel with Europe and the US; Otherwise, they will disrupt the game if they feel that the region is heading to a point where their interests are ignored and they are exposed to security threats. Therefore, this two-pronged approach must be taken by Iran to advance this policy. Perhaps the reason Saudi Arabia is a little inclined to talks is that they feel the Americans are not looking for war with Iran. If war with Iran was serious Saudi Arabia would be hiding behind America. Saudi Arabia does not want to be the arrowhead of the conflict.