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Fierce enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia secretly investigate to ease tensions.

BEEUTI, Lebanon – In a prime-time television interview four years ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia dismissed the idea that his kingdom could find accommodation with Iran.

“How do we communicate?”

Now, Prince Mohammed searches for those issues as he embarks on a diplomatic action to unravel tensions between the two regional powers that have fueled the Middle East conflict.

Last month, the head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services launched secret talks with senior Iranian security officials in Baghdad to discuss the conflict on a number of issues, including the war in Yemen and armed forces backed by the military. Iran in Iraq, Iraqi officials and Iran

And in a television interview last week, Prince Mohammed reimagined the Kingdom of Iran in a new light, saying his country opposed “some negative behavior” but hoped ” Build a good and positive relationship with Iran that will benefit all parties. ”

While concrete signs of a new understanding between Saudi Arabia and Iran have yet to be made and can take a long time if they do happen at all, even the emotional vent between the opponents can be reflected in the countries where their competition is. Encouraging political feuds and armed conflicts. Including Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

“Through negotiations and constructive perspectives, two important countries in the region and the Islamic world can bring differences behind them and enter a new phase of cooperation and tolerance to bring stability and peace to the region.” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Khatibzadeh said at a news conference on Thursday in response to Prince Mohammed’s remarks.

Negotiations in Baghdad started on the backdrop of a broader shift in relations in the Middle East as the region adapted to changes in style and policy from President Trump to President Biden, a seemingly change. This will make Saudi Arabia more compliant with regional diplomacy.

While Mr Trump is closely allied with Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and pursues policies. “Maximum pressure” to squeeze concessions from Iran, Biden has cooled the US ties with Saudi Arabia and resumed. Diplomacy is aimed at restoring an international pact to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

Biden strongly criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights record during the presidential campaign and vowed to reassess the American relationship with the kingdom. Upon taking office, he ordered the release of an intelligence assessment that found Prince Mohammed was likely to order the killing of dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, although he refused to punish you. Direct male

The White House last month said it would hold off selling offensive arms to Saudi Arabia in an effort to withdraw American support for Saudi Arabia’s catastrophic war in Yemen.

It looks like Saudi Arabia is adjusting its behavior to suit the new color scheme.

As the new government took over, Saudi Arabia released a number of notorious prisoners and ended a four-year blockade, and other Arab countries imposed another close ally of the United States, Qatar, which still has. Relations with Iran as well

Last week, the king of Saudi Arabia invited the President of Qatar to visit Saudi Arabia, showing a powerful reconciliation.

Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia were publicly aware of the talks. Saudi officials have publicly denied them. Their existence was personally confirmed by Iraqi and Iranian authorities.

Analysts said the latest changes in the US administration, in addition to a long-term cut in Washington’s focus on the Middle East, have made the Saudis Questioning America’s determination in defense has weakened Saudi hands and forced it to take a less crooked approach to Iran.

“America is retiring from the Middle East, withdrawing its troops and focusing on Asia, and a balance of power between Saudi Arabia and Iran will simplify this exit,” said Ali Qholizadeh, a political analyst in Iran. “Iran is seizing this strategic opportunity.”

Saudi Arabia and Iran have long competed for influence in the Middle East, and the kingdom has accused Iran of using proxy to fight war and weaken the Arab state, making the region unstable. Iran sees Saudi Arabia as a key player in the US and Israel’s efforts to rule the region and destabilize Iran.

The talks in Baghdad, hosted by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadimi on April 9, began addressing some of these issues. Iraqi and Iranian officials said discussions about Iranian-backed armed forces activities in Iraq and the war in Yemen, where an alliance of Saudi-led Arab states was at war with the Houthis. Iran backs

The talks, first reported by The Financial Times, have gathered senior security officials for Saudi Arabia and Iran, according to two Iraqi officials, Iranian officials and Iranian government advisers anonymously because they were not authorized to provide information to the media. news

Iranian government advisers said the talks included Saudi Arabia’s chief intelligence officer Khalid al-Homidan and Saeed Irawani, deputy secretary general of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Officials said the countries had agreed to hold further talks in Baghdad in May, possibly between ambassadors.

Asked for comment, the Saudi government issued a statement that it would “seek any opportunity to promote peace and stability in the region” on the condition that Iran “expressed goodwill” and “cease any malicious activity”.

Each party tends to make big requests from the other.

Iranian officials and analysts said Iran wanted to resolve the Yemeni conflict by ensuring that the Houthis played a power-sharing role in the government. Iran also wants Saudi Arabia to end a campaign of pressure to remove Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria, stop lobbying to boycott Iran and not normalize relations with Israel as other Arab countries do.

Saudi Arabia wants to find a way to end the Yemen war and deter provocations by Iranian-backed militants in Iraq that attack Saudi Arabia’s targets and launch anti-Kingdom drones from Iraq, according to Sajad Jiyad. Fellow Baghdad Century Foundation, an independent research group

The two sides could finally discuss the restoration of diplomatic ties that ended in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed Shia priests and Iranians protesting the executions of two Saudi diplomats in Iran.

Yasmine Farouk, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace studying Saudi Arabia, said she expected the first priority would be to reach a regional security agreement as the two countries in the past.

“They have to do that before they get to the point of zoning their influence in the region,” she said.

She said the decision to speak directly with Iran signaled a shift in Saudi Arabia’s policy since the previous Saudi Refusing to discuss Yemen with Iran as they deem Iran’s involvement there as illegal.

“They are more real and mature now and they feel that talking to Iranians will be more helpful than saying they need to leave Yemen,” she said.

Prince Mohammed was adopted in Iran after his father King Salman ascended the Saudi throne in 2015 and gave his favorite son great powers.

“We are the main target of the Iranian regime,” Prince Mohammed said in a television interview in 2017, arguing that Iran’s revolutionary ideology made it impossible for negotiations with the leaders. Let the fight take place in Saudi Arabia. But we will work to make the fight possible for them in Iran. ”

His tone of voice was noticeably different from last week. Although he was not aware of the negotiations with Iran. But he explained that it was “Neighboring country” that Saudi Arabia wants. “Prosper and grow”

“We have Saudi Arabia’s interests in Iran, and they have Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia, which will drive wealth and growth in the region and around the world,” he said in an interview broadcast on Tuesday on Saudi television.

Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, Lebanon; Farnaz Fassihi from New York; And Jane Arraf, from Amman, Jordan, Falih Hassan contributed to the Baghdad reporting.

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