It could be a beginning for a diplomatic thaw between regional rivals
Having long rivalry in the region and day-to-day allegations and counter allegations, Iran and Saudi Arabia have lately shown some kind of diplomatic thaw. The first indication came from Tehran by Bahram Qassemi, the foreign ministry spokesperson on Saturday when he said that his country plans to open an interests section in Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh had closed its missions in Iran, including embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad after unruly protesters damaged some window panes etc after the execution of a revered Shia clergy Sheikh Mohammed Baqer Al-Nimr by Saudi authorities in early 2016.
Bahram Qassemi said, “There have been advances made in the past two weeks, and I believe there are signs that the interests section will open and become operational.”
Switzerland has been representing Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia for last eight months. He said that the Iranian interests section would be located in the Swiss Embassy in Riyadh.
Since severing their ties after 1979 Islamic Revolution, Swiss embassy in Tehran hosts US interest section while Pakistan embassy in Washington hosts Iranian interests section.
The Iranian interest section in Swiss embassy in Riyadh will deal with the issue of Iranian Hajj pilgrims, which has been the point of much contention between the two countries for years.
Another bone of contention was the 2015 Mina tragedy when, according to Tehran about 4,700 people, including 460 Iranian were killed in a stampede. Iran held Saudi Arabia responsible for the death of the Haj pilgrims. However, Saudi Arabia claims nearly 770 people were killed in the incident. Hundreds remain missing till date.
The stampede, which was supposedly caused by a member of Saudi Royal family, who allegedly drove for hitting symbolic Satans in Mina ground against the law and the traffic arrangements.
This tragedy came shortly after a huge construction crane collapsed into Mecca’s Grand Mosque, killing more than 100 pilgrims, including some Iranians.
Iranians claim that some important scientists were killed among the Haj pilgrims and there could be a conspiracy to hinder Iran’s progress in various developmental projects, including its nuclear program.
Iran did not send pilgrims for Hajj the following year on the grounds that Saudi Arabia was not able to ensuring safety of the pilgrims.
Replying to a question of possibility of rapprochement between the two countries, Qassemi said, “We have announced time and again that we are ready for negotiations with regional countries, even Saudi Arabia.” He said that Iran has never rejected offers by third countries to mediate.
Ever since breaking its ties with Iran, the Saudi Arabia has ramped up its rhetoric against Tehran over its role in the region. Riyadh, along with Tel Aviv and Washington, has been critical of Iranian cooperation to Syrian and Iraqi government fighting Daesh (IS) terrorists and other similar groups.
Saudi Arabia has also been accusing Tehran of supporting and supplying arms, especially missiles to Yemen’s Houthis who are fighting tooth and nail against Riyadh-led aggression since March 2015.
However, Saudi Press Agency or Al-Arabia have not yet reported about any positive diplomatic move with Iran.