False détente: Iran and Saudi Arabia

False détente: Iran and Saudi Arabia

An Iranian delegation is expected to visit Saudi Arabia on Thursday to discuss arrangements for its citizens to make the

Photo: PBS

Photo: PBS

An Iranian delegation is expected to visit Saudi Arabia on Thursday to discuss arrangements for its citizens to make the Hajj trip to Mecca.

In January last year, relations between the two publicly ruptured, purportedly over Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shi’ite religious leader. In reality, bilateral tensions over regional conflicts and historical animosities had been simmering for years; Sheikh Nimr’s execution was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For over a year now, Riyadh and Tehran have refused to speak to each other. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Iranians were prevented from making the Hajj pilgrimage in 2016. Whatever their outcome, Thursday’s talks represent a symbolic step forward and come a week after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Oman and Kuwait – both Gulf Cooperation Council members friendly to Saudi Arabia.

However, the regional powers remain locked in an intractable geopolitical cold war – fuelling destabilising proxy conflicts in Yemen and Syria. While there are circumstances where the two may cooperate on shared interests, such as last November’s oil production freeze deal and perhaps the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage, these remain very limited.

Dig deeper: Briefing: Saudi-Iranian relations