Saudi foreign minister said to nix press conference in room with photo of Soleimani

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Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, in Tehran for a landmark visit with his Iranian counterpart, reportedly asked to switch the location of their joint press conference Saturday because the originally scheduled room featured a photo of slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on the wall.

Soleimani headed the Al-Quds division of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a secretive unit tasked with carrying out military operations beyond Iranian borders. He was killed in a 2020 US drone strike in Iraq and is hailed as a national icon among supporters of Iran’s theocracy.

Various outlets, some citing Iranian media reports, reported that Prince Faisal’s entourage asked that the Iranians find a different room for the press briefing he was to give with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. The Iranians complied and the press conference was held in a different room.

At the briefing, Prince Faisal said, “Our relations are based on a clear foundation of full and mutual respect for independence, sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs.”

The Iranian foreign minister told reporters they had discussed ways of bolstering cooperation in the fields of security, economy, tourism and transportation.

But Amir-Abdollahian stressed Iran’s view that “regional security will be ensured by regional actors only,” without external interference.

Prince Faisal later met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and they “reviewed bilateral relations and ways to enhance and develop them in various fields,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in a tweet.

It was the first visit of a Saudi foreign minister to Iran since Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia severed relations with Shiite-led Iran in 2016, after its embassy in Tehran and consulate in the northwestern city of Mashhad were attacked during protests over Riyadh’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

But the two countries agreed in March to mend ties and reopen their respective embassies, in a Chinese-brokered deal that has shifted regional relations.

Iranians walk past a poster of slain military commander Qassem Soleimani off a main square in the Islamic Republic’s capital Tehran on January 11, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

While Iran reopened its embassy in Saudi Arabia, the reopening of the Saudi embassy in Tehran has been delayed because the building was still in poor condition after having been damaged during the 2016 protests.

Until the work is completed, Saudi diplomats will be working from a luxury hotel in Tehran, according to media reports.

Iran responded to the killing of Soleimani by launching a barrage of missiles at US bases in Iraq, causing brain concussion injuries among dozens of US soldiers stationed there but no deaths. Iranian officials have repeatedly vowed to take further steps and imposed sanctions on individuals accused of taking part in the operation that killed the general.

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