Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal discussed Tuesday regional developments and the fight against Islamic State jihadists with a senior Iranian official visiting his country’s longtime regional rival, an Iranian diplomat said.
The visit by Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to the city of Jeddah was the first by a high-level official from Shiite Iran to Sunni Saudi Arabia since Hassan Rouhani became the Islamic republic’s president in August last year.
The meeting was “fruitful”, Iran’s representative at the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Riza Hamid Dahqani told AFP.
The diplomat, who attended the meeting, said that the two men discussed relations between both “neighbours”, regional developments and “the challenges facing the region such as extremism and Israel’s savage aggression” on Gaza Strip.
They particularly discussed the situation “in Iraq and means to confront extremism and terrorism,” said Dahqani, referring to IS jihadists, operating in Syria and Iraq.
The Iranian diplomat did not elaborate on how Saudi and Iran could cooperate to stop the advance of the jihadists.
The meeting comes as US media reported that Washington, which has launched air raids in northern Iraq against IS, could consider similar action against the group’s fighters in Syria.
Iran and Saudi are on opposite sides in the Syrian conflict, with Tehran backing President Bashar al-Assad and Riyadh supporting the rebels trying to topple him.
Amir-Abdollahian visited Riyadh in June, but that was for an OIC meeting.
Iran’s financial daily Donya-e Eghtessad wrote: “It (the visit) is a step towards improving relations between Tehran and Riyadh.”
The authorities in Saudi Arabia had invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, but he declined, citing the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers.
Donya-e Eghtessad also quoted Amir-Abdollahian as saying a Zarif trip to Riyadh should “be prepared and protocol must be respected”.
Rouhani has stated his wish to improve relations with Iran’s neighbours, especially Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s other regional heavyweight.
In June, Rouhani warned that Muslim states which funnel petrodollars to jihadist Sunni fighters wreaking havoc in Iraq will become their next target.
“I advise Muslim countries that support the terrorists with their petrodollars to stop,” Rouhani said, referring to Saudi Arabia and Qatar which Tehran accuses of financing the jihadists.
“Tomorrow you will be targeted… by these savage terrorists. Wash your hands of killing and the killing of Muslims,” he added.
Tehran also supports protests by Bahrain’s Shiite majority while Riyadh backs its Sunni rulers.
Saudi Arabia is also concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme and fears a rapprochement between Tehran and the United States in the context of an agreement on the nuclear issue.