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Iran’s Khamenei hails thaw with Egypt, Saudi Arabia during Omani sultan visit

The potential rapprochement falls within Tehran's hard-liners' recent push on the reset button in Iran's ties with Arab rivals to reposition itself in the regional power play, avert economic collapse and fight off international isolation.
Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei meets with Oman’s Sultan, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, and his accompanying delegation on Monday, May 29, 2023.

TEHRAN — Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei welcomed on Monday a potential reopening of diplomatic ties with Egypt, and an ongoing rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. He credited hard-liner President Ebrahim Raisi for such regional improvements. 

Ties with Egypt have remained cut off for the larger part of the past four decades following the inception of the Islamic Republic in 1979. But recent mediation by Oman, whose leader is visiting Tehran after Cairo last week, could see normalization between the two capitals.

"We have no issues in this regard," Khamenei said on Monday at a meeting in Tehran with visiting Omani leader Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said.  

According to Khamenei's website, he made the comment after the Omani sultan "relayed Egypt's willingness for the resumption of ties with the Islamic Republic." 

The sultan's two-day trip to Tehran followed his visit only last week to Cairo, where he reportedly began the push to bring the two sides closer together.  

Oman has over the past decade been engaged in resolving long-standing issues between Iran and its rivals or enemies. Most notably, the Omani leadership played mediator between Tehran and Washington in 2013, laying the foundation for marathon talks that culminated in the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal.  

And as recently as this week, Oman also helped Belgium and Iran implement a prisoner swap deal that secured the release of an Iranian diplomat serving a 20-year jail term in Brussels over terror charges in exchange for a Belgian aid worker whom Iran had convicted of espionage and sentenced to 40 years. 

The Omani sultan, according to Khamenei's website, also admired Iran's normalization with Saudi Arabia, referring to the China-brokered deal that was struck in March. Khamenei gave the deal's credit to his hard-line president and his "good policy to expand ties with neighbors and regional countries."  

That policy has in recent months been vigorously pursued at a critical juncture for the Islamic Republic, which is being squeezed both at home and abroad. The Iranian leadership faces a pressing legitimacy question amid popular protests that have rocked the nation since Mahsa Amini's death in September 2022. The unrest has been coupled with a worsening economy that is all but on the edge of collapse, as well as international pressure over Iran's involvement in the war against Ukraine through drone deliveries to Russia.   

With its vital assets frozen abroad due to sanctions and its lifeline oil income lagging far behind budget planning, the Islamic Republic is in dire need of getting the stalled nuclear negotiations back on track and reversing course.  

While the readout from Khamenei's meeting with the sultan made no mention of a possible exchange of views on the fate of the nuclear talks, speculation has been rife that Muscat could also be mediating to once again reinject life into the dying accord.  

At a meeting earlier this month with senior staff from Iran's Foreign Ministry, Khamenei once again spoke of "heroic flexibility" — the notion that he introduced in 2013 and which served as the key permission for Iranian diplomats to engage with their American counterparts before securing the original nuclear deal.  

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