Iraqi caretaker PM in Iran to rekindle talks with Saudis

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iraq’s caretaker prime minister met with Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday, state TV reported, on a visit aimed at reactivating Baghdad-mediated talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi officially received Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who was slated to meet with other officials in Tehran, according to the report.

Al-Kadhimi flew to Tehran from Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, where he held meetings with Saudi officials in the port city of Jeddah.

Although the leaders made no mention of the Sunni powerhouse during their joint press conference in Tehran, it was clear that al-Kadhimi had come to Tehran with messages from the kingdom in a bid to resume suspended political talks between the adversaries that have been held secretly in Baghdad.

Al-Kadhimi said he discussed “regional challenges” with Raisi and agreed on “restoring stability in the region.”

Raisi similarly made vague remarks about the importance of calming tensions in a Mideast riven with political and religious rivalries.

“We persisted on negotiations among regional nations for solving problems of the region,” he said, in pursuit of “peace and calmness.”

Iran, the largest Shiite Muslim country in the world, and Sunni kingdom Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Angry Iranians protesting the execution stormed two Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran, fueling years of animosity between the nations.

The Saudi-Iran talks aimed at defusing yearslong tensions between the regional foes began quietly in Iraq’s capital last year. Saudi Arabia was seeking a way to wind down its disastrous war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The conflict has spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters and brought bombs from rebel drones and missiles raining down on Saudi airports and oil facilities.

Beyond Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia support opposite sides in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. Iraq borders both Iran and Saudi Arabia and is often caught in the middle of the two nations’ proxy wars.

A fifth and last round of talks was held in Baghdad in April before they were suspended again amid heightened regional tensions.

Al-Kadhimi has stressed he seeks balanced relations with the two neighbors. Improving relations with wealthy petrostate Saudi Arabia was a key policy of his administration when he took office.

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