On the first week of February Iran’s foreign minister stepped up efforts to improve ties with Gulf Arab Sunni states urging them to work with their Shiite rival to address “anxieties” and violence across the region.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week traveled to Oman and Kuwait to try improve ties, his first visit to the Gulf states since taking power in 2013.
The six Arab members of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially Saudi Arabia, accuse Iran of using sectarianism to interfere in Arab countries and build its own sphere of influence in the Middle East. Iran denies the accusations.
“On regional dialogue, I’m modest and I’m focusing on the Persan Gulf.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
We have enough problems in this region so we want to start a dialogue with countries we call brothers in Islam,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told delegates at the Munich Security Conference.
His comments were in response to a question on whether Tehran would also consider a region-wide dialogue that included Israel.
“We need to address common problems and perceptions that have given rise to anxieties and the level of violence in the region.”
Zarif earlier in his speech had criticized four-decades of well financed “Takfiri” ideology, a word often used by Iran to refer to hard-line, armed, Sunni Islamist groups that it says Saudi Arabia is behind.
Zarif once again dismissed any suggestions his country would ever seek to develop nuclear weapons.
When asked about the new US administration’s tough rhetoric on Iran’s role in the region and calls to review a nuclear deal a with major powers, he said Iran did not respond well to threats.
On February 25, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Adel Al-Jubeir made a surprising visit to Iraq.
Al-Jubeir’s trip was the first official visit to Iraq by a Saudi foreign minister since 1990 and the first high-level visit since the 2003 United States-led invasion.
At a press-conference, the minister said that the kingdom is seeking to build a strong relationship with Iran and both sides have an intention to take on joint counterterrorism efforts.
“It’s the hope of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to build excellent relations between the two brotherly countries. There are also many shared interests, from fighting extremism and terrorism [to] opportunities for investment and trade between the two countries,” Al-Jubeir was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.
In an interview with Sputnik Arabic, Ali al Tamimi, an expert in international law, said that since 1990 ties between Riyadh and Baghdad have been in a state of decay, with no sign of improvement.
“This visit was possible due to efforts by the Iraqi government at the Munich Security Conference. Iraq wants to join forces with Saudi Arabia in fighting terrorism. Baghdad is waging war on terrorism, and neighboring Saudi Arabia could help rebuild the country,” al Tamimi said.
The expert also noted that for Riyadh this visit was also of regional importance.
“The kingdom wants to use Iraq to establish contacts with Iran. They need some kind of a mediator to resolve problems,” he said.
At the global level, Saudi Arabia wants to establish aerial communications and trade with Iraq.
“Saudi Arabia is not only an important regional player, but also an influential actor in the international arena. Riyadh could influence certain global decisions and could help Baghdad defeat terrorism,” al Tamimi pointed out.
According to Hadi Jalu Muri, a “public outcry in Iraq over the visit is possible because many believe that Riyadh is among those responsible for the plagues Iraq is facing today.”
At the same time, he noted, the visit was welcomed by many in Iraqi political circles, including by some Shia movements.
He expressed hope that “many political, economic and security changes” are now likely to happen in Iraq.
Finally, the expert suggested that the “US wants Saudi Arabia to be more involved in the situation in Iraq, in order to restrict Iranian influence there.”