July 31, 2019 / 10:35 AM / 21 days ago

Iran says it's prepared for dialogue if Saudi Arabia also ready

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talks to the media during the Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Coordinating Bureau in Caracas, Venezuela July 20, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran is prepared for dialogue if Saudi Arabia is also ready, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

Tensions have spiked between Iran and Saudi Arabia, arch-rivals for predominance in the Middle East, since Riyadh accused the Islamic Republic of carrying out attacks that damaged six oil tankers in the Gulf. Tehran has denied the allegation.

“If Saudi Arabia is ready for dialogue, we are always ready for dialogue with our neighbours,” Zarif was quoted as saying by the IRIB news agency. “We have never closed the door to dialogue with our neighbours and we will never close the door to dialogue with our neighbours.”

The attacks on the oil tankers came as the United States, Saudi Arabia’s major big power ally, toughened sanctions on Iran in an attempt to force it into negotiations on stricter limits to its nuclear activity and curbs on its ballistic missile programme.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, called on the international community in mid-June to take a “decisive stand” over the tanker attacks but said the kingdom did not want a war in the region.

Riyadh also accuses Iran of supplying missiles and drones used in cross-border attacks on Saudi cities by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis, a charge both the group and Tehran reject.

Zarif also said Iran could hold similar talks with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a close ally of the Saudis, adding, “If they change their policies it is a very good opportunity for dialogue”.

Iran had maritime security talks on Tuesday with the UAE in an apparent effort to calm tensions in the Gulf.

The UAE Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency WAM on Wednesday, that the talks covered “routine maritime issues” including maritime connections, smuggling, fishermen and shared borders.

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Frances Kerry

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