On Aug. 1, the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia surprised political observers by shaking hands with each other at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in Istanbul. Given that the encounter came in the wake of months of direct verbal clashes between the two over regional developments, some saw the unexpected greeting as potentially signaling a glimmer of hope for improvement in the Iran-Saudi relationship.
Following the warm greeting, Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian journalists Aug. 1 that what happened on the sidelines of the OIC summit was a “diplomatic norm” and based on “mutual respect” and a “long-standing friendship” with Adel al-Jubeir. He added that the brief encounter was not groundwork for the resumption of diplomatic relations, which Saudi Arabia cut following the storming of its diplomatic facilities in Iran over its execution of a dissident Shiite cleric.
In response to a question about whether there was any link between the greeting with Jubeir and Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s trip to Saudi Arabia on July 31, Zarif said Aug. 2, “The policy that Saudi Arabia is pursuing in Iraq had no relation with this encounter. This was just a simple greeting.”
Zarif continued, “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s policy is to cooperate with its neighbors, and if the neighbors are prepared and don’t seek to create tensions, they definitely see Iran as a good partner and companion because it is in Iran’s interest to have a safe and stable region.”
Reformist and moderate Iranian media welcomed the “warm greeting,” while hard-liners have yet to comment on the matter. The Reformist Shargh daily reported Aug. 2, “Iran is not seeking hostility toward Saudi. Zarif’s greeting with Jubeir may be a prelude to the end of whatever that has created disagreement, [even] if the meeting was accidental. We should talk to Saudi Arabia diplomatically.”
Describing the handshake as the first “positive step,” Nosratollah Tajik, a former ambassador to Jordan, told a local news site Aug. 2, “Whether this meeting was preplanned or coincidental, it indicates that both countries have the will to reduce the tensions and resolve the misunderstandings [between each other].” He added, “That both foreign ministers decided to talk and greet instead of taunting and confronting each other shows that the atmosphere is being prepared for the beginning of talks.”
In other news, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, has reacted to the new US congressional sanctions against Tehran. “Iran’s countermeasures against the US’ lack of commitment to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] will be coordinated and [conducted in] parallel [with one another],” Shamkhani said Aug. 2.
The senior Iranian official continued, “The US is seeking to withdraw from the JCPOA at the expense of Iran, while we would definitely not give that country [the US] such an opportunity. Nonetheless, this does not mean maintaining the JCPOA at any cost.”
He added, “Practically, the five countries [UK, France, Germany, Russia and China] have stood up to the US, and all of them have clarified or have hinted that the US is breaching the JCPOA, and this is a political achievement for Iran, having paid the lowest price.”
Shamkhani said, “In the view of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to curb this raging bull [the US], we should direct its energy to the preferred path so that we can reach our anticipated objective without any additional expense and damage.”