Saudi King Salman expresses hope for direct talks with Iran in UN speech

Filed on September 23, 2021


King Salman made the remarks in a pre-recorded speech delivered to leaders gathered for the UNGA.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia expressed hope on Wednesday that the kingdom’s direct talks with Iran will lead to confidence building as the two bitter regional rivals take small steps toward dialogue following several years of heightened tensions.

King Salman made the remarks in a pre-recorded speech delivered to leaders gathered for the UN General Assembly. He said Iran is a neighbour of Saudi Arabia, and that the kingdom hopes talks between the two nations can lead to tangible results that pave the way to achieving the aspirations of the region’s people.

He cautioned, though, that relations must be based on respect of national sovereignty and the cessation of support for sectarian militias.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran hit a low when the Trump administration was exerting maximum pressure on Iran. During those years, Iran was accused of being behind multiple attacks on energy targets in the Arabian Gulf— including a stunning strike on an Aramco refinery in 2019— and of supporting Houthi fighters in Yemen, where the kingdom has been at war for more than six years.

In April, news emerged that the rivals had held a first round of talks in Iraq after President Joe Biden’s election. Former President Donald Trump had pulled the US out of a nuclear deal in 2018; Biden said the US wants to return to the pact, though talks have stalled.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabollahian, was quoted by Mehr as saying the priority of Iran’s new government “is to strengthen and develop relations with its neighbours and the region.” He met with Finnish, German, Austrian, Swiss and Croatian foreign ministers on Tuesday in New York, according to Mehr.

Newly sworn-in Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has remained in Iran amid the ongoing pandemic. He was severely critical of American policies in his speech delivered remotely to the UN gathering on Tuesday, speaking shortly after Biden’s in-person remarks.

King Salman reiterated Saudi concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful energy purposes.

Palestine statehood

He also used his speech to stress Saudi Arabia’s longstanding public position on Palestinian statehood, saying that a lasting peace must guarantee an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

He acknowledged “economic difficulties,” but said despite such challenges the kingdom remains a major donor of humanitarian aid and global efforts to combat Covid-19 as a Group of 20 nation. The coronavirus pandemic sent oil prices crashing last year, eating away at the kingdom’s key source of revenue. Saudi Arabia has led major oil producers in a pact to curb production to help support oil prices.

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