Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to resume diplomatic relations after years of conflict. During talks in China, it was decided to "reopen the embassies and representations of the rival regional powers within two months," the Iranian state news agency IRNA and the Saudi Arabian news agency SPA reported on Friday, citing a joint statement. High-ranking government officials have signed the corresponding agreement, it is said.
According to Irna, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamchani, traveled to Beijing on Monday "to conduct intensive negotiations in China with his Saudi Arabian counterpart in order to finally settle the differences between Tehran and Ryad".
Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran severed ties seven years ago, in January 2016, after protesters in Iran attacked Saudi Arabian diplomatic missions. Riyadh had previously executed the well-known Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. In the Yemen war, Saudi Arabia supports the government troops, while Iran stands behind the Houthi rebels.
Riyadh and Tehran now want to settle their differences in dialogue, the SPA statement said. Both countries are struggling for political and military influence in the region.
At a meeting of foreign ministers, the establishment of trade relations and cooperation on security issues will also be discussed. According to Iranian media reports, China played a key role as the host of the signing alongside Oman and Iraq as mediators. In view of Iran's political isolation and international criticism, the Islamic Republic had been looking for new partners in Asia in recent years.
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. The talks have been on hold for almost a year.
In the past year, both sides had cautiously approached each other again at the diplomatic level. Several rounds of talks were held in Iraq with Iranian and Saudi officials, mostly focused on security issues.
Iran and Saudi Arabia had repeatedly negotiated pilgrimages during the diplomatic ice age. For devout Muslims, pilgrimage is one of the five basic duties. Every devout Muslim who is healthy and can afford it should make a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia once in their lifetime.