Iran top diplomat hopes for restoration of Saudi ties

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed hope during a visit to Lebanon Friday that diplomatic ties between Tehran and Riyadh could be restored through dialogue between the two regional arch-rivals.

Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran in January 2016, after protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran and consulate in second city Mashhad following Riyadh's execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Amir-Abdollahian told a news conference in Beirut "we are ready to restore ties," and such a move "would have positive repercussions on the entire region."

He also hailed a potential rapprochement between Iranian ally Syria and Turkey, after their defence ministers met last month.

Iran and Saudi Arabia back opposing sides in various conflicts in the region, including in Syria.

Amir-Abdollahian said the first steps should be resuming talks on reopening Iran's consulate in Jeddah and Saudi Arabia's consulate in Mashhad for citizens interested in religious travel.

"But as we see it, Saudi Arabia is not completely ready to work on... normalising ties," he told reporters.

Since April 2021, Iraq has hosted a series of meetings between the two sides, but no meetings have been publicly announced since April 2022.

Last July Amir-Abdollahian noted previous rounds of talks had mainly been at the level of security officials and said Iran was ready for talks at a higher-level "political stage."

But after nationwide protests in Iran erupted in September, Tehran accused Riyadh of "unfriendly behaviour" and encouraging the movement.

Iran holds sway over political life in Lebanon and Iraq, where it also supports armed groups.

Amir-Abdollahian met Friday with officials including his counterpart Abdallah Bou Habib and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

He also held talks with Hassan Nasrallah, chief of the powerful pro-Iranian Shiite movement Hezbollah.

They discussed "possible threats arising from the formation of a government of corrupt people and extremists" in Israel, according to a Hezbollah statement.

- 'Positive repercussions' -

Lebanon's southern neighbour in late December inaugurated the most right-wing government in the country's history, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The move has sparked fears of heightened tensions between Israel and Palestinian groups, and of a potential military escalation in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Syria's pro-government Al-Watan newspaper said Amir-Abdollahian was set to visit ally Damascus on Saturday, at a time of warming ties between Syria and Turkey.

"We are happy with this dialogue that is taking place between Syria and Turkey," Amir-Abdollahian said.

"We believe that this dialogue should have positive repercussions benefitting these two countries."

Ankara had long backed rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But after more than a decade of war that has seen Damascus claw back territory with Russian and Iranian support, ties between Syria and Turkey have begun to thaw.

In late December, Syrian and Turkish defence ministers held landmark negotiations in Moscow -- the first such meeting since 2011.

Assad said on Thursday that a Moscow-brokered rapprochement with Turkey should aim for "the end of occupation" by Ankara of parts of Syria.

The defence ministers' meeting is to be followed by talks between the three countries' top diplomats, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.

The mooted reconciliation has alarmed Syrian opposition leaders and supporters who reside mostly in parts of the war-torn country under Ankara's indirect control.

rh-at/aya/it