Saudi Arabia’s strongman is sending signals of dialogue and détente towards the Islamic Republic. Divisions and opposing interests remain, but collaboration can “benefit everyone”. The White House, Gulf nations and COVID-19 are the factors that led to the change. Hinduism and Buddhism are included in Saudi school curriculum.
Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) wants openness and good relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s historic enemy.
Speaking to the al-Arabiya network, the prince said that the two countries need to work together to ensure a prosperous future for the Middle East.
In the interview, he also addressed several current issues and outlined future economic plans, highlighting the ambitious Vision 2030 program to free the country from oil dependency.
The call for dialogue comes despite what the prince calls Iran’s “negative behaviour” in some areas, such as its nuclear programme, missile testing and support for outlaw militias (a reference to armed groups in Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq).
With Saudi Arabia’s regional and global partners, it is necessary to “find a solutions to these problems,” he said.
The prince’s statement comes two weeks following reports about a face-to-face meeting between senior Saudi and Iranian officials in Baghdad, part of an attempt to re-establish relations that broke off in 2016.
Diplomatic sources in Riyadh half-heartedly denied the story, whilst Iran did not issue any official comments but reiterated that it was “always open to dialogue”.
In fact, the wheels of diplomacy are turning and more meetings are planned in Baghdad for the coming weeks, although no date has been set.
One of the factors that have prompted the current quest for dialogue are the arrival in the White House of Joe Biden, a Democrat, in lieu of hard-liner Republican Donald Trump, who sought to put maximum pressure, with Saudi and Israeli help, on the Islamic Republic.
Another factor is the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, which once again showed the need for the two rivals to work together.
Lastly, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) wants to see an end to the confrontation, which is why Riyadh and the other countries in the region must turn towards a new era of negotiations and de-escalate tensions.
Of course, divisions and opposing interests between the top Sunni power and the most important Shia nation remain, but they must be seen in a perspective of renewed cooperation, formally at least.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself said that he no longer wants “the situation with Iran to be difficult”, not least because “At the end of the day, Iran is a neighbouring country of ours and all that we hope for is to have good relations.”
To this end, he added: “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.”
Such words are far cry from the past. In 2018 the prince compared Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to Adolf Hitler.
The decision to add the ancient Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata into the kingdom school curriculum is part of the orientation to reform the country.
Saudi Arabia’s first yoga instructor, Nouf Al-Marwaai, posted on social media her son’s textbooks which include questions about Buddhism and Hinduism.
“Saudi Arabia's new #vision2030 & curriculum will help to create a coexistent, moderate & tolerant generation,” she tweeted.
The school curriculum also provides for the mandatory study of English in an attempt to show the outside world a face and society that are increasingly tolerant and open to dialogue.