Iran’s foreign ministry said talks with Saudi Arabia were “respectful”.
Iran resumed its exports to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, in the latest not towards rapprochement between the regional rivals as talks accelerate.
Iran Customs Administration’s Spokesman Roohollah Latifi announced the return of Saudi Arabia to its exports market, according to a report by Islamic Republic News Agency [IRNA].
Latifi also revealed to Al Araby Al Jadeed that the resumption of trade has been taking place over the past two months, ending a year-long interruption of exports and imports between the two countries.
The Iranian customs official said this “represents a positive development” amid talks between Riyadh and Tehran, noting that the two latest shipments to the kingdom were worth around $39,000.
“[Export volume] is currently low and insufficient, but it constitutes a positive indication and the beginning of the resumption of ties, and it can continue to secure the needs of the two countries in various fields,” said Latifi.
The latest development came following four rounds of talks between the two regional rivals in Iraq.
The two countries severed diplomatic ties in 2016 following tensions that were triggered by the storming of Saudi diplomatic sites by Iranian protesters in response to the kingdom’s execution of popular Muslim scholar Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr.
Latifi said the resumption of trade movement is the outcome of talks between them in Iraq, adding that “Iran and Saudi Arabia are Islamic countries that have many opportunities to strengthen relations in various economic, political and cultural fields”.
The last round of talks took place on 21 September and marked the first such discussions to take place under the new Ebrahim Raisi administration.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said recent talks had been “cordial” but have yet to reach substantial results.
“These interactions have been [of] an exploratory nature, and have not reached a state where we can say we made substantial progress,” Prince Faisal told reporters in Washington following a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Last week, an AFP report said Saudi Arabia and Iran reached an agreement “in principle” to reopen consulates in the two countries and an announcement over the restoration of ties is expected within weeks.
“I think an announcement of normalisation of ties may come in the next few weeks,” a foreign diplomat residing in Saudi Arabia told AFP.
Strained relations further worsened following the election of former US President Donald Trump, who openly favoured Saudi Arabia’s leadership for its confrontation with Iran.
In a press briefing on Monday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said that while he cannot confirm presence of a Saudi diplomatic delegation in Tehran, he described the recent talks as “respectful”.
Since Qatar and Saudi Arabia restored diplomatic ties on 5 January, Doha has expressed its willingness to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran.
US Special Representative for Iran Robert Malley is travelling to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates between 15-21 October to discuss stalled talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal and the latest regional developments.
“The Iranian-Saudi rapprochement will have a positive impact on regional security, peace in the region, Islamic countries and economic growth,” said Latifi.
Iran’s trade with Saudi Arabia amounted to zero last year.
The kingdom’s imports from Iran, which include packaged medicaments and medical instruments, stood at $104,000 during 2019.
The withdrawal of former US President Donald Trump from the 2015 nuclear accord, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA], further introduced economic sanctions on the country.
The Islamic Republic’s economy took a hit following years of US sanctions and the coronavirus outbreak last year.
In 2020, the country’s gross domestic product [GDP] shrunk by 5%, more than one million people lost their jobs and the Iranian rial lost more than half of its value against the dollar.
In February this year, inflation stood at 48%, almost double what it was in the same period last year.
However, the World Bank said earlier this month that Iran’s economy has been witnessing “a moderate recovery” over the past year as countries ease Covid-19 lockdowns, leading to a 3.4% growth in the GDP.
“Iran’s economic outlook is shaped by the expectations about the course of the pandemic, the recovery in demand from export partners, and geopolitical developments,” said the World Bank.