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Iraq confirms hosting talks between rivals Iran, Saudi Arabia

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s president says that his country recently hosted direct talks between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran on more than one occasion, the first public recognition of Baghdad’s role as mediator.

The first round of talks between Riyadh and Tehran took place early last month, Iraq’s President Barham Salih says during an interview broadcast live by the Beirut Institute, a think tank. He says talks have since occurred “more than once,” describing the discussions as ongoing, “important and significant.”

It marks the first time that an Iraqi official publicly confirms the talks had occurred. Salih doesn’t comment when asked what the fruits of the talks had been.

Saudi Arabia has sought talks with Iran as the kingdom tries to end its years-long war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Tehran, meanwhile, appears to have calculated that a gradual détente with Riyadh, a long-time US ally, will work in its favor during renewed nuclear talks with Washington and world powers.

For Iraq, hosting the talks is seen as a significant step for Baghdad, which has consistently sought to play the role of a regional mediator. Salih echoes that, saying that “for Iraq to be able to play that convenient role between these regional actors is important.”

Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia has confirmed that the talks took place, though Iranian officials have alluded to them and welcomed the discussions.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been regional rivals. Relations worsened considerably in 2016, when Riyadh removed its diplomats after protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad in retaliation for the kingdom executing a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr.

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