The gradual US disengagement from this region in favour of a pivot toward Asia has launched a process of reconciliation among countries which have been estranged by competition and rivalries.
This process has been given fresh impetus by developments at the annual opening of this session of the UN General Assembly.
In his pre-recorded address to the Assembly — delivered after more than five years of tension between Riyadh and Tehran — Saudi King Salman voiced the hope that ongoing direct talks between the neighbouring countries will produce confidence-building measures and dialogue. While he said relations between them must be conditioned on respect for national sovereignty and an end to Iran’s backing for sectarian militias, he also gave his support for European Union-sponsored talks in Vienna aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. His statement appeared to signal a change in policy. The kingdom had opposed the 2015 six-power agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for ending sanctions, arguing that once they were lited, Iran would increase its involvement in Arab affairs.
In his Assembly speech, Iran’s new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi expressed readiness to return to the nuclear deal, which the US had abandoned in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. Talks have been suspended while he assembled his foreign policy team. He has made it clear his objective is lifting all sanctions not just those related to the nuclear deal.
During his election campaign and after his inauguration, Raisi pledged to give priority to re-establishing good relations with Iran’s neighbours. This seems to have encouraged Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi to continue his mediation effort, launched during the presidency of moderate ex-President Hassan Rouhani. This effort is aimed at ending regional enmities, starting with the rit between Riyadh and Tehran.
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