US envoy to the Middle East hopes Saudi-Iranian detente will help the region

KHARTUM, Sudan (AP) — The Biden administration hopes warming Iran-Saudi Arabia ties will help de-escalate conflicts and crises in the Middle East, a senior U.S. diplomat said Thursday.

Relaxation between the two regional heavyweights could help end Yemen’s nine-year civil war, Barbara Leaf said. Earlier this month, Riyadh and Tehran agreed to resume diplomatic ties after seven years of rupture – a move that prompted cautious optimism across the region.

“The first thing to consider is whether Iran will honor its commitments to Yemen,” Leaf said, stressing that Tehran must stop the “deadly aid” it is providing to its allies.

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran had agreed to arming Tehran’s Yemen allies — the Shia Houthi rebels fighting a Saudi-led coalition in the Arab world’s poorest country — as part of the deal set.

In 2014, the Iran-backed Houthis seized the Yemeni capital of Sanaa and much of the north of the country, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile. Saudi Arabia entered the conflict on the side of the government in March 2015.

The Saudi-Iran rapprochement could also help financially troubled Lebanon, Leaf said, where both Riyadh and Tehran wield political and economic clout.

The tiny Mediterranean country is in the grips of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, the result of decades of corruption and mismanagement.

Leaf, the deputy foreign minister for Middle East affairs, called on Lebanon to implement the economic reforms he agreed with the International Monetary Fund over a year ago.

“There is no escaping the fact that Lebanon is sinking into an ever deeper economic crisis,” Leaf said. She spoke at a virtual press conference after visiting Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon and Tunisia.

Since the deal was struck, Lebanese officials have made limited progress in repairing the country’s ailing banking system and reforming the country’s barely functioning public electricity system. Lebanon also has no elected president.

Leaf also called on Palestinian and Israeli leaders to live up to promises to de-escalate tensions after a sharp spike in violence.

Leaf, who visited the Libyan capital Tripoli and also the eastern city of Benghazi — seats of rival governments in the divided, volatile country — appealed to the Libyan leadership to commit to new elections. Last month, the United Nations unveiled a plan to unite the rival governments and take the war-ravaged country to the polls.

However, Libyan politicians are critical of the plan and previous efforts to bridge the gap have failed.

Leaf also urged Tunisia to seek a bailout deal with the IMF. Like other countries in the region, Tunisia has been hard hit by the aftermath of the Ukraine war and is struggling with rising inflation.

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