11:10 GMT +316 December 2019
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    Riyadh' skyline showing the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) and the famous Kingdom Tower

    Iran Is Ready to Talk if Saudi Arabia Also Ready – Foreign Minister Zarif

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    Saudi Arabia and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations, and the situation is unlikely to change for the better since both of them see the other as major competitors for influence in the Middle East.

    Iran is ready to have a dialogue if Saudi Arabia is ready as well, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said.

    “If Saudi Arabia is ready for dialogue, we are always ready for a dialogue with our neighbours,” he said on Wednesday, as quoted by the state-run news agency IRIB.

    “We have never closed the door to dialogue with our neighbours and we will never close the door to dialogue with our neighbours.”

    Relations between Riyadh and Tehran have been characterised by a growing sectarian rift and political rivalry in recent years. Saudi Arabia has emerged as a leader of the Sunni Arab world and become aligned more with the United States over the past decade, while Iran – a predominantly Shia nation also seeking regional dominance – has forged closer ties with Russia and China.

    The two countries do not have official diplomatic relations, which ceased in early 2016 after the burning of the Saudi embassy in Tehran during protests against the execution of Shia cleric Nimr Baqir al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia on charges of instigating unrest.

    Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supporting the Houthi militias, which are fighting the Saudi-led Sunni coalition in Yemen, and sponsoring terrorism in the Middle East. Riyadh, in turn, is blamed for supporting Islamist militants in Iran’s border regions. Both deny mutual accusations.

    The stand-off between the United States and Iran over nuclear activity and terrorism has affected Saudi-Iranian relations as well. Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, was one of the strongest opponents of the 2015 nuclear deal – and as such endorsed Donald Trump’s decision to abandon it last year.

    Iran’s top diplomat Zarif regularly lashes out at what he calls “B-Team”, a company of leaders supporting the United States’ “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is named as one of them.

    Riyadh-Tehran relations took a turn for worse in May following a series of attacks in the region. Mohammad bin Salman publicly blamed Iran for the June attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, while another Saudi royal in May accused Tehran of ordering a Houthi drone strike on Saudi oil pumping stations. Iran denied any involvement in both cases.

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