Tabatabai: Iran-Saudi Arabia have reached a deep understanding of the necessity of rapprochement

Adnan Tabatabai is co-founder and CEO of the Germany-based think tank CARPO – Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient. We in KhabarOnline News agency discussed the impacts of Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia on Tehran – Riyadh recent efforts and talks for rapprochement.

What is your assessment of Biden's trip to Saudi Arabia? Can this trip have a negative impact on the recent negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia?
Before discussing the possible impact of Biden's trip on the Tehran-Riyadh dialogues, I would like to draw your attention to this point that his trip to Saudi Arabia was most beneficial for Bin Salman personally, more than anything else. Let's not forget that Biden is who took the strongest positions against Bin Salman. He had vowed that Bin Salman would pay the price for the murder of dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and said that he would turn the kingdom into a "pariah" over its human rights record. But the same Biden, now, gave an official visit to Saudi Arabia and met with Bin Salman. So, it is fair to say this trip greatly benefited Mohammed bin Salman, raising his self-confidence to a great extent in the region and globally. But regarding your question, I must say that Saudi Arabia has reached a level of deep understanding of the importance of rational relations with Iran, which makes it unlikely that it will abandon the path taken to solve problems with Iran. Unless we are very pessimistic and want to envisage that with this trip as well as the closeness between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, the self-confidence of Bin Salman and Riyadh has increased too much that they no longer see the necessity to improve their relations with Iran. In my opinion, this is an ill-fated idea and Riyadh is well aware of Iran's power and importance. Riyadh's participation in five rounds of talks with Iran, centered on and hosted by Iraq, is a clear sign that Saudi Arabia is willing to or at least let’s be hopeful, want to improve its relations with Iran, and this trip does not seem to have negative impact on Saudi Arabia's determination and decision.
Would you believe that during this trip, Biden give not any special recommendation to Saudi Arabia about how approaching Iran?
Biden is not like Trump who openly invigorated the Arabs to be hostile to Iran and intended to create division among Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE, or implicitly led them to war with Iran. Despite all this, Biden is not like Barack Obama, who openly encouraged Iran and the Persian Gulf countries to strengthen and improve their relations with Iran. I think he was something between the two. Of course, what is important is the evaluation, will and decision of the Saudi rulers. They are the ones who at the end of the day must ultimately decide and recognize their costs and benefits of dealing with Iran in the region. They are the ones who live in neighboring Iran, not the US.
Mr. Biden's advisors, however, seem to be apparently more similar to Trump.
Yes, unfortunately, Mr. Biden's advisors, especially his security advisors Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk, are promoting Iranophobia in the region and scaring Arab countries from Iran. This is almost what the Israelis have been doing for years, especially frightening Saudi Arabia and the UAE from Iran. They openly point to the closeness between Iran and Russia and express concern about this nearness. In this regard, they are instilling in the Arab countries neighboring Iran that Iran is not trustworthy, and in this regard, they may frame up intelligence and security files to Saudi Arabia, in which, Iran is doing bla bla … against you, to spread Iranphobia in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, become more concentrated.
What about Israel? We know that Israel is not very happy with the proximity and good relations of Iran and the Persian Gulf countries.
Israel has always been the winner of the conflicts and disputes between Islamic countries, specially Iran and Saudi Arabia. Yes, the Israelis may make overt and covert efforts to keep Riyadh away from Tehran, they may even try to sabotage the ongoing talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, both Iran and Saudi Arabia should be aware of this malice and if improving relations is important to them, they should watch out for any sabotage. In my opinion, both countries have reached a degree of understanding that the region will have better conditions with their better cooperation and relations, both politically and economically.
How serious is Iran in improving relations with its neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia?
The Islamic Republic of Iran has always emphasized the importance of having good relations with neighboring countries. Saudi Arabia is one of Iran's most important neighbors and for sure, having better relations and communication with this country can be one of the important and main goals of Iran's foreign policy. Although the origin of the terrorist and unpleasant developments of recent years in the region was not rotted in competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but the impact of these competitions cannot be denied in these conflicts. Therefore, without a doubt, the improvement of Tehran-Riyadh relations can help maintain peace and stability and the establishment of security in the region. Certainly, the improvement of relations between Tehran - Riyadh will help to improve the situation in Yemen and end the suffering of these poor and war-stricken people, something that has been one of the main demands of Iran for years.
Have there been any signs or hints from the Saudi side regarding the desire to improve relations with Iran that one can hope for?
Yes, I see signs of change, both at the level of governance and at the level of elites and experts who perpetually evaluate the relations of the two countries. These signs indicate the necessity of a serious and new appraisal of their relations with Iran. Recently, the Saudi rulers have not referred to Iran with hostile and antagonistic literature as in the past, but rather talked about Iran as a neighbor with whom it is possible to have a better relationship. I think the position of Saudi Arabia has recently become positive. There are also famous experts in Saudi Arabia whose views have also been changed. One of them is MOHAMMED AL-SULAMI, who in a recent article presented the solutions for the future of the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia. He is one of the main experts on the issues of two countries, and when he wrote a constructive article in the public space to improve the relations between Tehran and Riyadh, it can be a sign that he is preparing the ground and the public space for improving relations with Iran. Such positive statements were almost unimaginable in last years. Another article by Hassan Al-Mustafa has been published that praises the efforts of the Iraqi government to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia and shows how the future horizon can be improved.
It is also necessary, I think, the same measures helping the improvement of the relations of the two countries, to be taken from inside Iran. Of course, in Iran, the public sphere is fully prepared for this. However, while some American and especially Israeli officials are trying to prevent a rapprochement between the two countries and encourage Saudi Arabia to create a new axis of hostility with Iran, Tehran should send messages of brotherhood and neighborliness to these countries to assure them that it is not their enemy, and in this way Iran can neutralize the destructive actions of the Israelis.
News ID 194114


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