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Iran, Saudi Arabia said holding direct talks to mend regional rift

5 years after diplomatic ties were severed, contacts reportedly resume in Iraq to end Yemen civil war, restore relations

Iran President Hassan Rouhani (L) and Saudi Arabia King Salman. (AP)
Iran President Hassan Rouhani (L) and Saudi Arabia King Salman. (AP)

Five years after severing diplomatic ties, Iran and Saudi Arabia have reportedly been holding direct talks in Baghdad to mend relations and end the Yemen civil war.

A Financial Times report on Sunday, which cited three officials familiar with the negotiations, said a first round of talks was held on April 9, with additional discussions slated for next week.

The talks were described as positive.

“It’s moving faster because the US talks are moving faster and [because of] the Houthi attacks,” an unnamed official said, referring to indirect negotiations between the Biden administration and Tehran over its nuclear program, and stepped-up attacks on Saudi Arabia by Iran-backed rebels in Yemen, respectively.

However, according to the Reuters news agency, which cited several officials from both sides, no breakthrough was reached.

“This was a low-level meeting to explore whether there might be a way to ease ongoing tensions in the region,” an Iranian official told Reuters, adding that the meeting was urged by Iraq.

In this Aug. 22, 2020 file photo, tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels raise their weapons during a protest against the agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, in Sanaa, Yemen. (AP/Hani Mohammed, File)

A Western diplomat in the region told Reuters that the United States and Britain were informed in advance of the Saudi-Iran meeting.

Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic relations with Iran following 2016 attacks by demonstrators on its missions in Iran after the kingdom executed revered Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

The reported direct talks come amid an international and regional diplomatic push to end the Yemen conflict.

Saudi Arabia and the Biden administration have recently offered separate ceasefire proposals. The Iran-backed Houthis, however, turned them down.

Since US President Joe Biden took office, his administration reversed a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump naming the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, allowing American aid to flow into rebel-held territory. He also ended US support for the Saudis in the war.

Smoke billows during clashes between forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebel fighters in al-Jadaan area in central Yemen on February 11, 2021 (AFP)

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa by the Houthis. A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the rebels since March 2015.

The war in Yemen has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages. It has killed some 130,000 people, including fighters and civilians, according to a database project that tracks the violence.

The Iranian-backed rebels have also recently stepped up their cross-border attacks by missiles and explosive-laden drones on Saudi Arabia.

Since severing ties with Iran, Saudi Arabia has also fostered its covert ties with Israel over shared concerns about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and regional aspirations.

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