Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad ZarifReuters

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected an invitation to visit regional rival Saudi Arabia, Reuters reports.

According to Zarif, the proposed dates of the visit clashed with planned nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal recently said Riyadh had invited Zarif for a visit, hinting at the possibility of a thaw between two bitter rivals whose struggle for influence is evident in conflicts throughout the Middle East.

"It is not possible for me to attend," the official IRNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying, explaining that the event to which he had been invited in the kingdom, an Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting, coincided with the nuclear talks.

Zarif said he had informed Saudi officials of his inability to attend, IRNA reported. His visit would have been the first by a senior official of the Islamic Republic since President Hassan Rouhani took power almost a year ago.

Shiite Muslim Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia have been deeply divided for years over a raft of regional issues, particularly the conflict in Syria, in which Tehran has backed the Damascus government and Riyadh has been a leading supporter of the rebels.

Saudi Arabia has been particularly critical of the interim deal reached between Iran and six world powers over Tehran’s nuclear program.

A senior advisor to the Saudi royal family said after the deal was signed that his country was deceived by the United States in the agreements and will pursue an independent foreign policy in response.

President Barack Obama, on a visit to Riyadh in March, promised Saudi King Abdullah that the United States would not accept a “bad deal” with Iran.

Iran, for its part, has accused the Saudis of conspiring with Israel against it. These accusations came in a series of Iranian media reports claiming, among other things, that the head of the Saudi intelligence service met with several senior Israeli security officials and that a Saudi Arabian delegation flew to Israel last December for meetings with high-ranking Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, in what may be another signal of the changing relationship between Iran and Gulf States, the emir of Kuwait on Monday met Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called for better relations between the Islamic state and its neighbors.