Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) greeting Iraq's Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein in the Iranian capital Tehran on December 23, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Tehran:  In a further sign of a thaw in ruptured ties, Saudi Arabia has agreed to grant visas to three Iranian diplomats to be based in the kingdom, the Iranian foreign minister said on Thursday.

The next round of Saudi-Iranian talks will take place soon in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Hossein Amirabdollahian said at a joint news conference in Tehran with his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein..

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Baghdad-brokered talks with the kingdom had gone well, and officials in Riyadh responded positively to “constructive proposals” made by Tehran.

These included re-rebuilding official diplomatic links by granting visas for three Iranian diplomats to be based at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, a Jeddah-based body consisting of 57 Muslim countries.

“Saudi Arabia has agreed to grant visas to three Iranian diplomats as part of a routine procedure for representatives of a member state of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which is headquartered in Jeddah,” a Saudi foreign minister official said.

Amirabdollahian said the travel permits were issued last week and that a new round of meetings with Saudi Arabia in Baghdad to be held soon would make arrangements for the “next steps in the talks.” They include official visits to embassies which have been closed for almost six years.

There was no immediate comment from the Saudi government.

Saudi Arabia severed its diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016 after its embassy in Tehran was mobbed and set on fire in response to it executing a prominent Shiite cleric.

At the same press conference Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fuad Hussain called for direct negotiations between Iran and the United States, Iranian media reported, a rare appeal just days before world powers are set to resume talks over the tattered nuclear accord in Vienna.

“Any opening in Tehran-Washington relations will positively impact Iraq’s internal situation from political, economic and security perspectives,’’ Hussein said.

“We think it’s time for direct talks between Tehran and Washington so that the two countries reach a common understanding not only on the nuclear issue but also on sanctions imposed on Iran,’’ he said.

Tehran’s 2015 atomic deal with world powers granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme. Three years ago, America under then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord. In response, Iran has stepped up its nuclear programme and is now spinning a stock of uranium enriched to 60% purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels.

Tehran has struck a hardline in negotiations since conservative President Ebrahim Raisi came into office. Consternation is building among European nations at the negotiating table in the Austrian capital. The parties to the landmark deal will resume their efforts on Monday, the European Union said.

Iran has refused to speak directly to American officials in the rounds of talks since the US abandoned the accord.

Amirabdollahian repeated calls for the US to lift sanctions before Iran walks back its nuclear advances.

“We say it out loud that if you want your concerns over Iran’s peaceful nuclear issue to be removed, then all of the nuclear deal-related sanctions must be removed,’’ he said, addressing the West.