Iran and Saudi Arabia want to resume diplomatic relations after seven years of ice age. As a first step, a meeting of foreign ministers of the rival countries was decided, as the state news agencies of both countries, IRNA and SPA, reported on Friday. Accordingly, high-ranking government officials signed a corresponding agreement under Chinese mediation in Beijing.
Riyadh and Tehran want to settle differences in dialogue, according to a statement by the Saudi state agency SPA. Both countries also agreed to reopen the embassies within two months.
Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia-majority Iran have not maintained diplomatic relations in recent years. Both countries are struggling for political and military influence in the region.
At the ministerial meeting, building up trade relations and cooperation on security issues will be discussed. According to Iranian media reports, China played a key role as the host of the signing alongside Oman and Iraq as mediators. The agreement came about thanks to a “generous initiative by President Xi Jinping,” the Saudi state agency said. In view of Iran's political isolation and international criticism, the Islamic Republic had been looking for new partners in Asia in recent years. Oman and Iraq welcomed the rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are both dependent on oil exports. Competition in the energy market had also contributed to the rivalry. However, due to international sanctions as part of its controversial nuclear program, Iran is largely excluded from the market. According to observers, a normalization of relations between the two countries could also have a positive impact on negotiations to revive the Vienna nuclear agreement. Talks have been on hold for almost a year.
Attacks and proxy wars have shaped the past few years
Riyadh cut official ties with Tehran in January 2016 in response to an attack by Iranian protesters on the Saudi embassy in Iran. The protests were triggered by the execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia. In recent years, the two states have also fought out their rivalry in military conflicts in the region, for example in Yemen.
With the rapprochement, the two countries also want to promote peace and security at the regional and international levels, the SPA statement said. The development could have a positive impact on regional trouble spots such as the war in Syria and the crisis in Lebanon, analyst Naif al-Waka told Saudi state television Al-Ekhbariya. China's mediation will strengthen the country's reputation and credibility in the region.
Analyst Ali Alfoneh wrote on Twitter that it remains to be seen whether Tehran and Riyadh could withstand possible acts of sabotage by Israel. Israel is Iran's arch-enemy and has long sought to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. Iran has challenged Israel's right to exist since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
fears in Israel
Israel's ex-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sharply criticized the rapprochement. The agreement is "a failure of Israeli efforts to build a coalition against Tehran," he wrote on Twitter. He spoke of a "dangerous development for Israel." Opposition leader Jair Lapid called the deal "a complete failure" for the country. regional defense walls" had collapsed. Both blamed the current government, which was distracted from a controversial judicial reform. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially did not comment on the development.
Hamas, the Islamist organization ruling in the Gaza Strip, described the rapprochement as an "important step in the interest of the Palestinian cause".
The US sees the internal and external pressure that the government in Tehran is under as the main reason for the rapprochement, as the communications director of the National Security Council, John Kirby, said. If the step helps to end the war in Yemen and that Saudi Arabia no longer has to defend itself against attacks, the rapprochement is to be welcomed. More than "just an invitation from China" played a role in the negotiations, Kirby said.
Over the past year, both sides have cautiously approached each other at the diplomatic level. Several rounds of talks were held in Iraq with Iranian and Saudi officials, mostly focused on security issues. Iran's influential politician Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Security Council, was reportedly back in Baghdad for talks in the past few days.