By Mohammad Ali Shabani, for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.
Several regional states geopolitically situated between Tehran and Riyadh, including Pakistan and Oman, have expressed an interest in helping patch up the broken Iranian-Saudi relationship. However, Iraq is perhaps the most suited among the prospective mediators, for several reasons.
First, discourse on the Iranian-Saudi rivalry conveys that much of it is directly related to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which upturned the regional power balance. Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif confirmed this perspective on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, arguing that the regional instability “is caused by a panic in Saudi Arabia that believes there is a disequilibrium in our region after the fall of Saddam Hussein and after the Arab Spring.”
Iraq — or at least past Iraq-related developments — has also been featured in Iranian calls for engagement. Senior Iranian officials, including Zarif, have repeatedly made reference to UN Security Council Resolution 598, which ended the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, and its provisions relating to the establishment of regional dialogue forums.
Second — despite being the scene of intense competition between Iran and regional powers, and also Iran and the United States — Iraq has over the past decade repeatedly served as a platform for dialogue. Indeed, the first direct, overt engagement between Iran and the United States after their 1980 cut in diplomatic relations was not related to the Iranian nuclear program, but to Iraq. Following Iraqi efforts, Iranian and US officials met in Baghdad in 2007.
While tangible output was thin, the main achievement was the re-breaking of the taboo of Iranian-American engagement, which — following successful 2001 covert cooperation on Afghanistan — had reappeared after George W. Bush’s inclusion of Iran in the “Axis of Evil.” Indeed, just two years after the meetings in Baghdad, the first direct Iran-US discussion on the nuclear issue took place in Switzerland. Of further note, upon Iran’s request, Iraq was also host to nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six world powers in May 2012.