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Is Rafsanjani’s death nail in coffin of Saudi-Iran dialogue?

Will the death of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a man who repeatedly and personally helped bridge the divide over the Persian Gulf, make an Iranian-Saudi rapprochement unlikely anytime soon?
Flames rise from Saudi Arabia's embassy during a demonstration in Tehran January 2, 2016. Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran early on Sunday morning as Shi'ite Muslim Iran reacted with fury to Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent Shi'ite cleric. REUTERS/TIMA/Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKE
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TEHRAN, Iran — Two men on the opposite sides of the Persian Gulf — one wearing a white turban and the other traditional Arabic headgear, an Iranian and a Saudi, a president and a king — at one level were able to build a bridge for dialogue between their countries. With the death of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani two years after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia passed away, the twin pillars of the bridge over the Persian Gulf no longer exist. In fact, the last time there was a trace of hope was when people saw a picture of the Saudi ambassador to Tehran in April 2014 kissing the forehead of Rafsanjani, and it was thought that this might be the kiss of life to Saudi-Iranian relations — but that turned out not to be the case.

“Recent events in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain are among the issues that have created a distance,” the late Rafsanjani told Al-Monitor in an interview back in 2015. Rafsanjani added, “Of course, if the Iranian government and [its counterparts] decide to work together, things won’t be difficult and will be as they were in the past.” Rafsanjani seemed a bit overoptimistic then, despite the fact that he was regarded as the only living man capable of changing the status quo.

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