The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Iran, Saudi Arabia resume ties with assist from China
Deal represents a major diplomatic shift of alliances amid U.S. withdrawals in Middle East.
Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed Friday to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies after seven years of tensions between the Mideast rivals. The major diplomatic breakthrough negotiated with China lowers the chance of armed conflict between the nations both directly and in proxy conflicts — around the region.
The deal, struck in Beijing this week amid its ceremonial National People’s Congress, represents a major diplomatic victory for the Chinese as Gulf Arab states perceive the United States slowly withdrawing from the wider Middle East. It also comes as diplomats have been trying to end a yearslong war in Yemen, a conflict in which both Iran and Saudi Arabia are deeply entrenched.
The two countries released a joint communique on the deal with China, which brokered the agreement. Chinese state media did not immediately report the agreement.
Iranian state media posted images and video it described as being taken in China of the meeting. It showed Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, with Saudi national security adviser Musaad bin Mohammed al-aiban and Wang Yi, China’s most senior diplomat.
“After implementing of the decision, the foreign ministers of the both nations will meet to prepare for exchange of ambassadors,” Iranian state television said. It added that the talks had been held over four days.
The joint statement calls for the reestablishing of ties and the reopening of embassies to happen “within a maximum period of two months.”
In the footage aired by Iranian media, Wang could be heard offering “wholehearted congratulations” on the two countries’ “wisdom.”
“Both sides have displayed sincerity,” he said. “China fully supports this agreement.”
China, which last month hosted Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, is also a top purchaser of Saudi oil. President Xi Jinping, just awarded a third five-year term as president earlier on Friday, visited Riyadh in December to attend meetings with oil-rich Gulf Arab nations crucial to China’s energy supplies.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Shamkhani as calling the talks “clear, transparent, comprehensive and constructive.”
“Removing misunderstandings and the future-oriented views in relations between Tehran and Riyadh will definitely lead to improving regional stability and security, as well as increasing cooperation among Persian Gulf nations and the world of Islam for managing current challenges,” Shamkhani was quoted as saying.
Shortly after the Iranian announcement, Saudi state media began publishing the same statement.
Tensions have been high between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The kingdom broke off ties with Iran in 2016 after protesters invaded Saudi diplomatic posts there. Saudi Arabia had executed a prominent Shiite cleric days earlier, triggering the demonstrations.
The execution came as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, then a deputy, began his rise to power. The son of King Salman, Prince Mohammed at one point compared Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler, and also threatened to strike Iran.
In the years since, tensions have risen dramatically across the Middle East since the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018. Iran has been blamed for a series of attacks in the time since, including one that targeted the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in 2019, temporarily halving the kingdom’s crude production.