BEIRUT, Lebanon — In a prime-time television interview four years ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia dismissed the idea that his kingdom could somehow find an accommodation with its archrival, Iran.
“How do we communicate?” he asked. “The mutual points that we can agree on with this regime are almost nonexistent.”
Now, Prince Mohammed is finding those points as he embarks on a diplomatic effort to defuse tensions between the two regional powers that have underpinned conflicts across the Middle East.
Last month, the chief of Saudi intelligence began secret talks with a senior Iranian security official in Baghdad to discuss several areas of contention, including the war in Yemen and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, Iraqi and Iranian officials said.
criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights record during the presidential election campaign and vowed to reassess the American relationship with the kingdom. Once in office, he ordered the release of an intelligence assessment that found Prince Mohammed had likely ordered the killing of the dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, although he declined to sanction the prince directly.
suspend sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia in an effort to withdraw American support for Saudi Arabia’s catastrophic war in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia appears to have shifted its behavior to match the new tone.
As the new administration came in, Saudi Arabia released a number of high-profile prisoners and ended the four-year blockade it and other Arab countries had imposed on Qatar, another close United States partner that also maintains ties with Iran.
This past week, the Saudi king invited Qatar’s emir to visit Saudi Arabia, a powerful gesture of reconciliation.
Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia, however, have publicly acknowledged the talks. Saudi officials have even publicly denied them. Their existence was confirmed privately by Iraqi and Iranian officials.