Iran Denies Secret Talks with Rival Saudi Arabia
Shi’ite Iran has denied holding secret direct negotiations with rival Sunni Saudi Arabia, after The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post both published articles claiming the two nations were discussing ways to reduce tensions in the Gulf. Over the summer, Tehran was blamed for attacks on numerous shipping vessels transiting vital Middle East waterways, while a September drone and cruise missile attack on critical Saudi oil infrastructure was also attributed to the Islamic Republic. Concurrently, Iran and Saudi Arabia remain on opposite sides of the proxy wars in Syria and Yemen and have long competed against each other for political influence in Iraq and Lebanon. Nevertheless, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman did confirm that officials from other countries – assumed to be Oman and Pakistan – are acting as intermediaries for the exchange of messages between Tehran and Riyadh. The House of Saud reportedly began pressing for a rapprochement after the strikes on its oil facilities, which temporarily cut the kingdom’s output by half and was viewed as a “game-changer.” Sources say that the US’s failure to respond militarily to the incident caused Saudi leaders to question how much tangible support – as opposed to threats disseminated on Twitter – they would receive from President Donald Trump in the event of a regional war. Meanwhile, mass protests in Iran, in addition to those partially fueled by opposition to the mullahs’ interventionism in Iraq and Lebanon, have further destabilized a regime already struggling to cope with the effects of US economic sanctions.