Is Rafsanjani’s death nail in coffin of Saudi-Iran dialogue?

Al-Monitor— Two men on the opposite sides of the Persian Gulf — one wearing a white turban and the other traditional Arabic headgear, an Iranian and a Saudi, a president and a king — at one level were able to build a bridge for dialogue between their countries. With the death of Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani two years after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia passed away, the twin pillars of the bridge over the Persian Gulf no longer exist. In fact, the last time there was a trace of hope was when people saw a picture of the Saudi ambassador to Tehran in April 2014 kissing the forehead of Rafsanjani, and it was thought that this might be the kiss of life to Saudi-Iranian relations — but that turned out not to be that case.

“Recent events in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain are among the issues that have created a distance,” the late Rafsanjani told Al-Monitor in an interview back in 2015. Rafsanjani added, “Of course, if the Iranian government and [its counterparts] decide to work together, things won’t be difficult and will be as they were in the past.” Rafsanjani seemed a bit overoptimistic then, despite the fact that he was regarded as the only living man capable of changing the status quo.

“Rafsanjani had this capability to make maneuvers depending on circumstances — all for serving the best interests of the Islamic Republic — and this ability made him a unique person in the [Iranian political] system,” Camelia Entekhabifard, an expert on Arab-Iranian Affairs, told Al-Monitor. The uniqueness of Rafsanjani in this regard is a matter that former Saudi diplomat Abdullah al-Shammari also stressed. She said, “It’s true that Rafsanjani’s priority was to serve the interests of his country, yet he was one of the main supporters of good Iranian-Gulf relations in general. He intervened several times to solve crises between Tehran and Riyadh.”

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