- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 18, 2021

Saudi and Iranian officials held secret talks in Iraq earlier this month to try to tamp down a raging regional struggle for influence, the Financial Times reported Sunday.

The reported meeting in Baghdad between the two bitter rivals would be the first such encounter since diplomatic relations were severed in 2016 and provide a possible hint of a thaw between the region’s leading Sunni Muslim and Shiite Muslim powers.

The Trump administration had made Riyadh the central focus of its strategy to unite Middle East countries against Tehran and contain its regional ambitions.

Saudi and Iranian sources were quick to deny the Financial Times account, which said the April 9 meeting had been brokered by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadimi. Iraq has long feared that it would wind up being the central battleground should the Saudi and Iranian camps come to blows.

The talks reportedly dealt in part with attacks on Saudi Arabia by Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen and were described by the newspaper as “positive.” Heading the Saudi delegation was Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan, the country’s intelligence chief, according to the Financial Times account.

The talks came as the Iranian regime has begun “indirect” talks with the Biden administration on reviving the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal rejected in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump.

Saudi Arabia and Israel were two of the loudest voices among U.S. allies opposing the agreement, warning that Tehran could not be trusted to keep its promises not to pursue a nuclear weapon.

Neither the official Saudi Press Agency nor Tehran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) carried any mention of the meeting or the Financial Times report Sunday morning.

But a top Iranian diplomat over the weekend gave an unusually upbeat summary of the nuclear talks with the U.S. and other powers in Vienna last week.

“After days of intensive talks, it appears that we are now on the right track. But difficult way to go,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi tweeted Saturday night. “Too soon to predict the result. Expert groups continue their hard work of clarifying important questions.”

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