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Iraqi PM heads to Saudi Arabia, Iran for new dialogue

In this photo released by the Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, June 25, 2022. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s caretaker prime minister arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, his office said, on a visit that an official said aimed at reactivating Baghdad-mediated talks between the kingdom and Iran.

The official said Mustafa al-Kadhimi planned to travel to Tehran after the visit to Saudi Arabia.

The visit seeks to open new avenues that would reactivate dialogue between the two regional foes, according to the official, who is privy to the Iran-Saudi dialogue track. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge the information to the press.

Al-Kadhimi’s office later said he arrived in the Saudi city of Jiddah for an official visit during which he would meet Saudi officials. It is al-Kadhimi’s second visit since he took the post of prime minister in May 2020.

The Saudi-Iran talks aimed at defusing yearslong tensions between the regional foes began quietly in Iraq’s capital in 2021 as Saudi Arabia sought a way to end its disastrous war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The conflict has spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters and brought bombs from rebel drones and missiles raining down on Saudi airports and oil facilities.

A fifth and last round of talks was held in Baghdad in April before they were suspended again amid soaring Middle East tensions.

Iran, the largest Shiite Muslim country in the world, and Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Angry Iranians protesting the execution stormed two Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran, fueling years of animosity between the nations.

Iraq borders both Iran and Saudi Arabia and is often caught in the middle of the two nations’ proxy wars.

Al-Kadhimi has stressed he wants balanced relations with the two neighbors. Improving relations with Saudi Arabia was a key policy of his administration when he took office.