Iran says 'always welcomed' talks with Saudi Arabia

author_image AFP
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (2nd left) flanked by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi (left) as he greets the Iraqi delegation in Riyadh on March 31, 2021. (Photo: AFP / Saudi Royal Palace / Bandar Al-Jaloud)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (2nd left) flanked by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi (left) as he greets the Iraqi delegation in Riyadh on March 31, 2021. (Photo: AFP / Saudi Royal Palace / Bandar Al-Jaloud)

Iran said Monday it has "always welcomed" talks with regional rival Saudi Arabia, without confirming or denying media reports that the two held direct talks earlier this month.

Tehran and Riyadh are on opposing sides in regional conflicts from Syria to Yemen and have had strained relations since the kingdom cut diplomatic ties with the Islamic republic in 2016.

The Financial Times said Sunday that senior Iranian and Saudi officials had held talks in Baghdad on April 9 to repair relations and were due to hold another meeting soon, quoting unnamed sources.

"We too have seen these published media reports," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters Monday.

"Of course, different quotes were published in these often contradictory reports," he added, saying that Iran does not comment on "contradictory media reports."

According to the FT, the talks included discussions about Yemen's Houthi rebels and "were positive."

The Houthis seized Yemen's capital Sana'a and much of the country's north in 2014, before a Saudi-led military intervention the following year.

Riyadh supports Yemen's internationally recognized government while Tehran backs the rebels, who have also mounted several rocket and drone attacks on Saudi soil.

"What matters is that Iran has always welcomed talks with the Saudi kingdom and considers this beneficial to the people of both countries and regional peace and stability," Khatizbadeh said.

He added that "this thinking will continue," without elaborating further.

The FT had said the talks were facilitated by Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi.

Riyadh has not officially commented on the report, while the Saudi English-language Arab News daily quoted an unnamed Saudi official as denying the talks.

The report comes during talks hosted in Vienna involving Tehran and world powers, focused on returning the United States to a 2015 nuclear deal it withdrew from and persuading Iran to implement nuclear commitments it suspended in response to US sanctions.

Tehran has previously rejected Saudi calls for Riyadh to be involved in the nuclear negotiations, but repeatedly confirmed its readiness to conduct a regional dialogue.

Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with majority Shiite Iran in 2016 after demonstrators attacked its diplomatic missions in the Islamic republic following the execution of a revered Shia cleric.

Animosity between them deepened in 2019 after a series of attacks on tankers in the Gulf, which Washington blamed on Tehran despite Iranian denials.