PHOTO: Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian — did he meet Saudis last week?
Could this be a clue to the series of statements from Iran’s regime denouncing a “foreign plot” to bring down oil prices — and implicitly showing concern and even panic over the Islamic Republic’s economy?
The Times of London, citing unnamed Iranian sources, claims that high-level officials from Iran and Saudi Arabia met secretly in Oman last week to discuss both the threat of the Islamic State and the sharp decline in the global oil price.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was in Oman for >a meeting of the Iran-Oman Joint Strategic Committee. However, the Times claims that Abdollahian stepped away from the formal proceedings to see a Saudi delegation, led by Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
According to The Times, discussion of a common approach towards the Islamic State foundered when Saudi Arabia rebuffed the Iranian request to prop up the oil price, which has fallen from about $120/barrel to about $65/barrel since June.
“We asked the Saudis to help stop the price of oil slipping further. They replied that Iran should adjust itself to the market and they were happy with the oil price,” an “Iranian source” said.
Iran had also failed to get the Saudis and other members of OPEC, at the oil producers’ meeting last month, to shore up the price by cutting production.
The Times cites an “Iranian government advisor”: “It seems the hawks in Riyadh have decided that a final push will send the Iranian economy over the edge.
So did the top-secret encounter — given that The Times has run stories in the past from “Iranian sources” which turned out to be exaggerated or even incorrect — take place?
The angry assertions this week by the Rouhani Goverment, including by the President, of “foreign powers” undermining Iran and the Islamic world through the low oil price are a general clue that something may have gone wrong with their strategy.
See Iran Daily: Is Rouhani Panicking Over the Economy?
However, it is Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian who offers an enticing, more specific statement in an interview on Wednesday with State news agency IRNA.
Amir Abdollahian echoed Rouhani’s “foreign plot” claim: “The failure of some oil countries in the region, which I’d rather not to name, in controlling and managing the oil prices have been based on taking wrong decisions in OPEC and this will ultimately harm all countries; some in the short-term and others in the long-term.”
But then he went further, “Of course, some close consultations between our oil officials and relevant authorities in the region are in progress and we hope to soon find a solution which will meet the interests of all regional countries.”
Of course, the Deputy Foreign Minister did not name the Saudis as the “relevant authorities in the region” — that would expose a secret meeting and risk further tension with Riyadh — but it is a tantalizing clue that The Times’ story is on the mark.
And it also magnifies the wider point: with Iranian officials increasingly worried about their economic position, what can they do to escape the bind if the Saudis — not to mention the US and its European partners — offer no way out?