There were 85,000 Iranian pilgrims who participated in this year’s pilgrimage, and news of Saudi and Iranian delegations visiting their respective countries gave the impression that this might be the beginning. Then came the hajj message from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who remarkably didn’t mention Saudi Arabia or its government despite the fact that his message last year was dedicated to criticizing the kingdom and its policies.
It was obvious that Iran wanted to send a different message this year, not necessarily in response to Iraq’s mediation, but perhaps just as a sign that the Islamic Republic had no intention to escalate the situation, even though the administration in Tehran is quite confident that rapprochement with Riyadh is unlikely.
On Sept. 5, this author had the chance to conduct a televised interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said his country was ready to cooperate with Saudi Arabia to end crises in different parts of the Islamic world. Zarif said, “We are ready to cooperate with Saudi Arabia to put an end to violence in Syria, to violence and oppression in Bahrain, not to mention the irrational war in Yemen.” Zarif said his country is always open to dialogue “but this is not the case with respect to our neighbors; if there’s any change, Iran will surely welcome that.”
Zarif’s answers gave a clear indication there was no serious discussion going on between the two countries. “If the Saudis are ready to turn the page, we are ready, too,” he said. “We have to stop talking about the tension and pave the way for cooperation. We don’t need additional crises in the region, but rather more cooperation and understanding.”