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Zarif Says Iran Open to Talks With Neighbours as Saudi Arabia Sends Same Signals

Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two regional rivals who see themselves as the leaders of the two main branches of Islam, have been characterised by Cold War-type animosity. The withdrawal of the United States, a key Saudi ally in the region, from the Iran nuclear deal escalated Mideast tensions to a level not seen in decades.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has signalled Iran’s readiness for dialogue with its neighbours, following a grueling month for regional stability.

“Iran remains open to dialogue with its neighbours, and we declare our readiness to participate in any complementary work that is in the interest of the region, and we welcome any step that restores hope to its people and brings them stability and prosperity,” Zarif wrote in an Arabic-language tweet on Thursday.

The message did not mention any names but appeared to refer specifically to Saudi Arabia. Speaking on the fringes of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, Saudi Prince Faisal said Saudi Arabia was open to talks “but it is really up to Iran”.

Relations between Iran and the US-allied Saudi Arabia have soured significantly over their support for opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and broader competition for regional dominance.

The political rivalry is exacerbated by religious differences, with Saudi Arabia following Sunnism and Iran being a largely Shia nation.

The two countries cut diplomatic ties following a mob attack on the Saudi diplomatic mission in Tehran in January 2016, the same day a prominent Shia cleric was executed in Saudi Arabia for allegedly seeking “foreign meddling” in the kingdom.

Iran this month effectively rolled back its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, responding to the 3 January assassination of its top general by the United States and Donald Trump’s 20-month-long campaign of maximum pressure.

Foreign Minister Zarif himself has repeatedly accused Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman of siding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the architect of Trump’s Iran policy John Bolton as part of a three-member “B-team” allegedly working to push Washington into a military conflict with Tehran.

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