Despite the fact that Iranians last weekend elected a hardline conservative as president, Ebrahim Raisi, Persian Gulf states still have a shot at normalising ties with their neighbour, several Middle East experts told Reuters.
By electing Raisi, Tehran has sent a "clear message" that it is tilting to a more "radical, conservative" position, UAE-based political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said. However, there are limits to such a shift, he added.
"Nevertheless, Iran is not in a position to become more radical [...] because the region is becoming very difficult and very dangerous", Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said.
It is unlikely that Iran's foreign policy, including towards regional powers, will change drastically, a Saudi columnist for the Okaz newspaper, Khaled al-Suleiman, wrote. He explained that even although the new president is not the moderate that Rouhani was, it is simply a change of face, as the real person in charge, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, remains in his position.
Iran Nuclear Deal as Leverage in Gulf Talks
Tehran has been working on mending relations with Gulf countries over the last couple of years following ties being abruptly cut with Saudi Arabia in 2016, along with similar developments with other regional powers. They accused Iran of meddling in their domestic affairs and of using proxies to destabilise the region. Saudi-Iranian talks in April this year reportedly focused heavily on Iran's alleged support for Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have been carrying out attacks against Riyadh over its military operations against the militant group.
However, it is Iran's nuclear deal with Western countries, Russia, and China that may become the leverage that Tehran seeks in order to push talks with regional powers, some experts have suggested in interviews with Reuters. The perceived US withdrawal from the region under Presidents Trump and Biden has prompted Gulf states to take on a more pragmatic approach towards relations with Iran, an analyst at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Jean-Marc Rickli, suggested. He added that in this situation, a renegotiated nuclear accord with the US and other signatories might become the leverage Tehran seeks.
"The Saudis have realised they can no longer rely on the Americans for their security [...] and have seen that Iran has the means to really put pressure on the kingdom through direct attacks and also with the quagmire of Yemen", Rickli said.
A successful renegotiation of the Iran nuclear deal, which essentially became defunct following the US withdrawal from the accord in 2018, is not beyond Tehran's reach even with an anti-West minded Raisi in power. Despite his hardline approach to relations with the West, the new president has expressed interest in having sanctions against his country lifted by means of signing a renewed nuclear deal. This would help him resolve Iran's economic woes and win political points. The process has already been started by Raisi's predecessor, President Hassan Rouhani, whose delegation reported certain progress in the last round of nuclear talks in Geneva.