If love often begins with a kiss in the shadows, diplomacy often begins with purposefully quiet get-togethers of trusted but officially low-ranking officials. And if love grows through escalations in the heart, the progress of diplomacy is marked through escalations in the ranks of the officials still meeting secretly.
So there is the suggestion of significant diplomatic progress between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the participation, in one of at least five reported multi-national meetings, of the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, and Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Khalid al-Humaidan.
Want more good news? The Saudi-Iranian courtship isn’t a secret any more. The Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman went on television to declare, “We are seeking to have good relations with Iran.”
To which, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, replied: “With negotiations and a constructive outlook, the two important countries in the region and the Islamic world can put their differences behind them and enter a new phase of cooperation and tolerance to bring stability and peace to the region.”
As diplomacy goes, these are very familiar lyrics. As Saudi-Iranian relations have gone, especially since the crown prince’s farther, the elderly King Salman handed MbS the keys to the government car, this is an entirely new song.
In the words of a famous Broadway song — “This could be the start of something big.”
Or it could be as in Sigmund Freud’s famous remark about cigars — sometimes a song is just a song.
Diplomacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran could be a big deal, but there’s an even more consequential negotiation underway between Iran and the United States about restoring or renovating the nuclear arms agreement — the JCPOA — that Donald Trump tore up.
Trita Parsi is the co-founder and executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, as well as the founder and former president of the National Iranian American Council. He is the author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy and Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States.