Aug 26, 1:56 PM EDT

Iran, Saudi diplomats hold rare talks

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's foreign minister met Tuesday with an Iranian deputy foreign minister in the highest-level bilateral talks between the two Mideast powers since moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's election last year.

Relations between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite powerhouse Iran are tense, and the meeting provided an opportunity for the two oil-rich nations to begin to thaw those ties.

The Saudi Press Agency said Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and the Iranian deputy foreign minister, Amir Abdollahian, discussed "a number of regional and international issues of common interest."

Both countries view each other with suspicion, and their relationship has been further strained by the civil war in Syria. Saudi Arabia backs rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad's government, which is supported by Tehran. Riyadh also has accused Iran of backing Shiite uprisings in neighboring Yemen and Bahrain.

Despite their differences, Saudi Arabia and Iran are both concerned about the threat posed by the rise of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq - a country they both border - and they have both expressed support for Haider al-Abadi as Iraq's prime minister-designate.

Rouhani has said he hopes to improve ties with Iran's Gulf Arab neighbors. His foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has paid visits to several of them, and the leaders of Kuwait and Oman have made their own trips to Tehran since Rouhani came to power.

Saudi Arabia invited Zarif to visit in May, but he has yet to take up that offer.

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