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Saudi Crown Prince Signals Desire To Improve Ties With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam has said his country wanted good relations with Iran. Riyadh severed diplomatic ties in 2016. "Our problem is with Iran's negative behavior," he said, mentioning Tehran's nuclear program, missiles program and support for proxies around the region.

Iranian and Saudi relations deteriorated when Tehran got deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, sending arms, advisors and later troops to keep Bashar al-Assad in power. Then in 2015, came Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the war in Yemen, where Riyadh came to dislodge pro-Iran Houthi forces.

"We are working with our regional and global partners to find solutions to these problems, and we hope to overcome them for good relations that benefit everyone," he added.

After President Joe Biden assumed office in January, US policy changed in two important respects in the region. First, Biden signaled his intention to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement abandoned by his predecessor. Second, his administration turned away from fully supporting the Saudi involvement in Yemen. These policy changes were probably instrumental for both Tehran and Riyadh to adjust their rivalry to the realities of the Biden era.

Regional sources have said that Saudi and Iranian officials held direct talks in Iraq this month aimed at easing tensions, with discussions focused on Yemen and efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of action, JCPOA, or the nuclear accord with Tehran.

Saudi Arabia supported Trump's decision in 2018 to quit the pact and reimpose sanctions on Iran. Tehran responded by breaching several nuclear restrictions.

Asked about Yemen, Prince Mohammed said no state wanted an armed militia along its borders and urged the Houthis to "sit at the negotiating table."

Riyadh last month presented a nationwide ceasefire proposal for Yemen but the Houthis have answered the call by escalating missile and drone attacks against Saudi territory, signaling that a shift in Saudi-Iranian relations will not be an easy handshake.

Crown Prince bin Salman also indicted Riyadh’s recognition of the need to play the game in Biden era. He said that the United States was a strategic partner and that Riyadh had only a few differences with the Biden administration which it was working to resolve.

The kingdom's de facto ruler also said Saudi Arabia would not accept any pressure or interference in its internal affairs.

President Biden, who has said he would only speak with his Saudi counterpart King Salman, has taken a tougher stand with Riyadh on its human rights record and the Yemen war than predecessor Donald Trump, who had strong ties with Prince Mohammed.

"We are more than 90% in agreement with the Biden administration when it comes to Saudi and U.S. interests and we are working to strengthen these interests," the prince said in an interview on Saudi TV.

"The matters we disagree on represent less than 10% and we are working to find solutions and understandings ... there is no doubt that the United States is a strategic partner," he added.

Prince Mohammed, who became crown prince in 2017 and has consolidated power since, said Saudi Arabia is also building strategic partnerships with Russia, India and China.

With reporting by Reuters

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