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Iran welcomes Iraqi mediation with Gulf states

No clear results yet, said Tehran's ambassador in Baghdad after reports of Saudi-Iran dialogue.

Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad said on Tuesday his government welcomes Iraq’s efforts to mediate relations with Arab Gulf states.

“The Islamic Republic supports Baghdad’s mediation to bring Tehran closer to countries with which we have faced challenges or with which ties have cooled, and Iraqi officials have been notified of this,” Iraj Masjedi told the state-run IRNA news agency in an interview.

The statement comes amid reports that officials from Iran and Saudi Arabia held direct talks in Baghdad earlier this month in a surprise diplomatic development between the regional rivals.

Masjedi said the two sides have “have not yet reached clear results and significant progress” but signaled that future discussions are on the table. “Let us wait for the work to go forward and we can see the practical results,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Baghdad, Abdulaziz al-Shammari, met with Iraq’s national security adviser Qasim Al-Araji yesterday. The two discussed “ways to end differences in a way that serves the interest of the region’s countries and peoples,” according Iraq’s state INA news agency.

It is unclear if the meeting directly touched on the engagement between Riyadh and Tehran.

The discussions constitute the first known talks between the rival states since diplomatic ties were severed in 2016. They also come as the current US administration pursues negotiations with Iran to return to a 2015 deal limiting Tehran’s nuclear program.

The previous US administration of President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and replaced it with a so-called maximum pressure campaign of sanctions against Tehran, leading Iran to double down on its controversial ballistic missile program and support for Shiite militias across the region.

Iran’s assertive foreign policy, including supplying and training militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, has brought it into further competition with Arab states in the Gulf region as well as with Israel.

The Trump administration used the regional fissure to push Arab leaders to establish ties with Israel in an initiative toward forming a regional bulwark against Iran. The Joe Biden administration has signaled it intends to build on those agreements. So far, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have agreed to establish relations with Israel.