As Iranians wait to inaugurate Hassan Rouhani as their new president on Aug. 3, Western media has focused on determining what his stance toward the nuclear issue will be. Also important, however, is the impact his presidency could have on the Islamic Republic’s relations with Saudi Arabia, its rival for dominance in the Persian Gulf and the broader Muslim world. For Iran, improving relations with the kingdom is key to addressing a number of its regional concerns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and even Pakistan.
Realizing this, Rouhani singled out Saudi Arabia as a “neighbor and brother” in his first news conference following the election, and said that improving relations would be among his top priorities. For its part, the Saudi government congratulated Rouhani and wished the Iranian people development and progress. This was a far cry from King Abdullah’s leaked 2008 statement to US officials, encouraging them to confront Iran and “cut off the head of the snake.”