“It looks like the Saudi officials have begun reforming some of their policies concerning interaction with some of the Persian Gulf’s littoral countries, having understood that war and bloodshed does not help them out any more, and also having despaired of their former allies,” Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in remarks to ISNA that the news agency published on Sunday.
Khatibzadeh said if Riyadh has seriously put reforms on its agenda and come to the conclusion that “regional cooperation” was the best way out of the region’s problems, the Islamic Republic would then be the first country to welcome the change.
“We have always emphasized that the regional countries should arrive at a common understanding regarding the regional problems,” he said, adding that such understanding would help establish a “security mechanism” that could be used to govern the region, Khatibzadeh noted.
In a recent interview with the Al Arabiya TV channel, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud alleged, “Our hands are outstretched for peace with Iran.”
Even though the top diplomat dampened the statement by accusing Iran of not committing itself to agreements and not being “serious about talks with Riyadh,” the apparent offer of conciliation still struck a rare tone.
Saudis cold-shouldered Iran
However, the kingdom has so far left Iran’s proposals for negotiation and resolution of standing differences between the countries unanswered, the official lamented.
Regional powerhouse Iran’s steady growth and burgeoning regional influence has hardly sat well with the Saudi kingdom over the past years. Riyadh cut its diplomatic ties with Tehran in early 2016 after its execution of senior Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr prompted angry protests in front of Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.
Mohammed bin Salman’s designation in 2017 as the next in line to assume Saudi kingship was followed by an exponential increase in Riyadh’s animosity towards Tehran.
Under bin Salman, the kingdom along with the Israeli regime put pressure on the administration of former US President Donald Trump to withdraw from a historic nuclear deal with Iran, which Washington did in May 2018 and restored its draconian sanctions against Tehran.
Observers say the Saudi royal’s demonization of Iran is an attempt to deflect attention from his own grave human rights violations, characterized by a deadly war on Yemen since 2015, the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and an ongoing crackdown against the kingdom’s Shia minority and oppositionists.
They also note that bin Salman’s oft-repeated accusation that Iran is a destabilizing force in the region —something Tehran categorically rejects – flies in the face of the Saudi support for regional militants and Takfiri terrorist outfits.
Khatibzadeh reminded that Saudi Arabia tows a long record of violations against the region, from the war on Yemen and support for regional militancy and Takfiri terrorism to a 2017 Saudi-led regional blockade of Qatar.
Iran, by contrast, has been leading a responsible and at the same time lenient approach towards the regional issues and has exercised self-restraint in the face of misconduct by Saudi Arabia and others, he said.
‘War not the answer’
Even if Riyadh might have some concerns, “the answer is not war,” the official said.
The spokesman said that Tehran has always invited the kingdom to negotiation. He cited a proposal by President Hassan Rouhani, dubbed Hormuz Peace Initiative (HOPE), which is designed to enable reconciliation and further cooperation among all countries of the region, as a case in point.
‘Ball in Riyadh court’
“Some concerns may be delusional and lead to foreign intervention in the region,” he said, adding, “We are even prepared to discuss these delusional and notional concerns.”
Nevertheless, “the solution is in the Saudis’ hands and they can solve this issue whenever they choose to,” the official noted.
‘S Korea asked not to politicize tanker issue’
Separately, Khatibzadeh addressed the issue of a Korean tanker that was impounded by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy on January 4 for endangering the marine ecosystem.
The official reminded that the capture was a purely technical matter, and that Iran had urged Seoul – which has asked Qatar to mediate the vessel’s release – not to try to resolve the issue “through political channels.”
MT Hankuk Chemi’s crew have been provided with medical care and the highest level of consular service, he said, and noted that the vessel’s captain even talked with Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun, who had recently travelled to Tehran to address the issue of the ship among other things.
Iran’s UN membership fee
The spokesman also pointed to a letter by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in which he has listed the countries that have outstanding membership debts to the world body, including Iran.
Khatibzadeh said Iran had duly picked the financial channel through which to pay the membership dues, but the US sanctions have prevented the country from using the channels.
The Islamic Republic has also been trying to pay up the debt from billions of dollars that South Korea has refused to pay Iran under the pretext of abiding by the US bans.
“We have asked them [the UN] to tell us how we were supposed to transfer this money so Americans cannot block it,” the official noted, reminding that Iran’s case differs from those of the countries that are in default of their membership fees.
Iran still ready to exchange prisoners with US
Asked about a possible prisoner exchange with the United States, the official said Iran was prepared to go ahead with such a move under the newly-inaugurated administration of US President Joe Biden.
He strictly rejected any accusation that the Islamic Republic had arrested any American citizen on its soil as means of “taking hostages.”
The spokesman said the charges facing those who have been arrested in Iran are completely clear. “Some of these charges are serious, including abetting terrorist actions or military espionage and other measures against Iran’s national interests.”
This is while the Americans, he added, place Iranians under arrest or have them arrested elsewhere in the world only under the “hollow pretext” that they have bypassed Washington’s sanctions against Tehran.