Saudi crown prince strikes conciliatory tone towards rival Iran
By Al Jazeera*
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has struck a conciliatory tone
towards the kingdom’s arch-nemesis, Iran, saying he sought “good” relations
after reports the rivals held secret talks recently in Baghdad.
The two countries, locked in a fierce struggle for regional
dominance, cut ties in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic
missions following the kingdom’s execution
of a revered Shia cleric.
“Iran is a neighbouring country, and all we aspire for is a
good and special relationship with Iran,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin
Salman (MBS) said in a television interview broadcast with the Middle East
Broadcasting Center late Tuesday.
“We do not want Iran’s situation to be difficult. On the
contrary, we want Iran to grow … and to push the region and the world towards
MBS added that Riyadh was working with regional and global
partners to find solutions to Tehran’s “negative behaviour”, mentioning
Tehran’s nuclear and programmes and support for proxies around the Middle East.
“We hope to overcome them and build a good and positive
relationship with Iran that would benefit everyone,” Prince Mohammed said
during the interview that lasted 90 minutes.
‘Broker a better
This marks a change in tone compared to Prince Mohammed’s
previous interviews, in which he lashed out at Tehran, accusing it of fuelling
regional insecurity. The prince did not mention any negotiations with Iran.
The talks in Baghdad, facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister
Mustafa al-Kadhimi, remained secret until the Financial Times reported that a first meeting had been held on April 9.
An Iraqi government official confirmed the talks to AFP news
agency, while a Western diplomat said he had been “briefed in advance” about
the effort to “broker a better relationship and decrease tensions”.
Riyadh has officially denied the talks in its state-backed
media while Tehran has not commented, asserting only it has “always welcomed”
dialogue with Saudi Arabia.
The initiative comes at a time of shifting power dynamics as
US President Joe Biden is seeking to revive the tattered 2015
nuclear deal that was abandoned by Donald Trump.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have backed opposite sides of several
regional conflicts from Syria to Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting
the Houthi rebels.
Prince Mohammed also said Riyadh and Washington remain
strategic partners despite disagreements on certain issues. But also stressed
his country’s unwillingness to accept any pressure or interference in its
“We are more than 90 percent in agreement with the Biden
administration when it comes to Saudi and US interests and we are working to
strengthen these interests,” said the prince.
“The matters we disagree on represent less than 10 percent
and we are working to find solutions and understandings… There is no doubt that
the United States is a strategic partner,” he added.
Biden has made clear his administration is recalibrating the
US relationship with Saudi Arabia following four years of warm times with the
Trump administration. Among Biden’s first decisions was ordering an end to US
support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, while the administration repeatedly
took a tougher stand on the kingdom’s human rights record.
The report strengthened the findings of an investigation (PDF) ended in June 2019 by the former United Nations
special rapporteur on extrajudicial killing, Agnes Callamard, who found
“sufficient credible evidence” of MBS’s responsibility in the killing of the
Saudi officials have repeatedly rejected accusations that
MBS was involved in Khashoggi’s killing, instead blaming the murder on a group
of rogue operatives.
The interview was aired on the same day an explosives-laden
the Saudi port of Yanbu. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are aligned with Iran,
have claimed responsibility for past attacks on Saudi oil targets.
Yemen has been gripped by six years of war and suffered
extensive bombing by a Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthis.
Since taking office in January, Biden has made Yemen a
priority and focused on reviving stalled UN efforts to end a conflict widely
seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Prince Mohammed said no state wanted an armed militia along
its borders and urged the Houthis to “sit at the negotiating table”.
Riyadh last month presented a nationwide ceasefire proposal
for Yemen, but the
Houthis rejected it saying a Saudi blockade on key ports must first be
‘State was weak’
Prince Mohammed, who became crown prince in 2017 in a palace
coup that ousted his predecessor, has consolidated his hold over the main
levers of power in the world’s largest oil exporter.
He is also the minister of defence, head of the supreme
council for state run oil company Saudi Aramco, and chairman of sovereign
wealth fund the Public Investment Fund, the main engine tasked with delivering
on his diversification drive.
His remarks marked the fifth anniversary of Vision 2030, a programme
intended to modernise the kingdom, wean the economy off oil revenues, and lure
foreign investment to establish new sectors and spur job creation.
Prince Mohammed said before King Salman assumed power the
“situation of the state was weak” with ministries scattered and no public
“Nothing will be achieved without a strong state position
that draws policies and sets strategies and aligns them with the different
entities,” he said. 28 Apr 2021
*Al Jazeera is an
independent news organisation funded in part by the Qatari government. In 2006,
Al Jazeera Satellite Network was changed to a public utility, private
corporation by a public memorandum and articles of association and was re-named
“Al Jazeera Media Network”.
The war has ripped
Yemeni society apart
Even if foreign
intervention ends, the war will not stop until Yemenis decide to forgive. More
than half of Yemen’s population of 30 million face varying levels of food
insecurity, with three million children suffering from acute malnutrition. As
the Yemeni state has disintegrated, social provision has disappeared and the
economy has been shattered. The war has completely decimated the
infrastructure in the country and caused shortages of all basic goods,