Iran ready for dialogue at regional summit, little progress made

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By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

DEAD SEA, Jordan, Dec 20 (Reuters) – Iran signalled its readiness for dialogue with regional states during a conference its arch foe Saudi Arabia attended in Jordan on Tuesday which yielded few signs of progress and no meeting between the two sides.

Iraq and France jointly organised the conference, aimed at supporting stability in Iraq and the wider region where Tehran and Riyadh, the leading Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim powers in the Middle East, have backed opposite sides in proxy wars from Yemen to Syria and elsewhere.

A closing communique said participants had reviewed the repercussions of international crises on Iraq and the region and said overcoming them required regional cooperation but did not spell out specific measures.

Saudi Arabia and Iran severed ties in 2016 and the meeting on the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea offered potential for direct talks, but there was no word of any meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. 

“We are ready to cooperate with all countries in the region including countries south of the Persian Gulf,” Amirabdollahian said. In his address, the Saudi minister pledged support for Baghdad but made no reference to relations with Iran.

Iraq has hosted five meetings between Saudi and Iranian officials since last year, the last of which was in April. These contacts have not yielded any breakthroughs to ease tensions in Iraq and elsewhere. 

Despite Amirabdollahian’s stress on dialogue, he also highlighted Iran’s role in fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and mentioned Qassem Soleimani, commander of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad in January 2020.

As he addressed the conference in Jordan, Soleimani’s successor Esmail Ghaani – speaking in Tehran – referred to Saudi Arabia as “a scum and not worth of being an enemy”.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have ticked higher since the eruption of protests in Iran with the Revolutionary Guards telling Saudi Arabia to control its media and the Iranian intelligence minister warning Riyadh there was no guarantee of Tehran continuing its “strategic patience”. 

‘BEYOND DIVISIONS’

Tuesday’s meeting was a follow-up to a gathering in Baghdad last year that aimed to show support for Iraq, which has faced crises ranging from Islamic State militants, climate change, corruption and instability since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. 

“We reject interfering in its (Iraq) internal affairs, undermining its sovereignty, or attacking its lands,” Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said.

At the same time, he added: “We do not accept any threat to be launched from Iraq against any of the neighbouring countries or the region.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said countries should focus on security, economy, water and infrastructure to support common concrete projects. He did not give examples of areas of cooperation.

“Collectively, we have to go beyond the divisions of the moment,” Macron said, adding that the war in Ukraine had worsened the situation in the region.

Other leaders attending included Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf al-Sabah.

(Reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Jordan and Nadine Awadalla and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Tom Perry, Timour Azhari and Dominic Evans; Editing by Nick Macfie and Josie Kao)

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