FM says Iran ready for closer ties with rival Saudi Arabia

DAMASCUS, Syria — Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his country is ready for closer ties with its regional rival Saudi Arabia, saying Wednesday he hoped recent talks would lead to greater stability in the region.

Zarif was speaking in Damascus after a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad. On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed the talks, mediated by Iraq and hosted in Baghdad.

Zarif said he hoped the talks would “come to fruition” and lead to cooperation between the two rivals to bring more stability and peace to the region, particularly in Yemen.

“We certainly are ready and have always been ready for close ties with Saudi Arabia,” Zarif told reporters in English.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been regional rivals and support opposite sides in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere in the region.

Relations worsened considerably in 2016, when Riyadh removed its diplomats after protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad in retaliation for the kingdom executing a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr. In Syria, Riyadh supported the Syrian opposition while Tehran backed Assad’s forces in the 10-year conflict.

Asked if the Iran-Saudi talks would lead to improved relations between Damascus and Riyadh, Zarif said: “I am sure our Syrian brothers have always welcomed cooperation in the Arab world. And we are also in that mood.”