On Saturday, April 8, a Saudi delegation arrived in Tehran to discuss the reopening of diplomatic missions in Iran, seven years after they were closed. This follows a historic meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries in Beijing just two days prior, where they agreed to restore diplomatic ties. The visit is seen as part of the implementation of the tripartite agreement reached on March 10 between Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China to restore ties that were ruptured in 2016.
The Saudi delegation, described as a “technical delegation,” met with Iran’s chief of protocol at the foreign ministry in Tehran to discuss the specifics of the reopening of diplomatic missions. The two countries are to reopen their embassies and missions within two months and implement security and economic cooperation deals signed more than 20 years ago.
The restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran is significant as the two countries have been longtime rivals in the Middle East, with a history of supporting opposing sides in conflicts across the region. They also have different religious denominations, with Saudi Arabia being predominantly Sunni Muslim and Iran being predominantly Shiite Muslim.
The rapprochement has the potential to reshape relations across a region characterized by turbulence for decades. The United States, which has been the key diplomatic power in the Middle East for decades, has cautiously welcomed the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran despite the role of China, which it sees as its biggest global challenger.
The conflict in Yemen is one example of the rivalries between the two countries. The Iran-backed Huthi rebels are supported by Tehran, while Riyadh leads a military coalition supporting the government. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have multiplied since the Saudi-Iran deal to restore relations, with Omani mediators arriving in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa to discuss a new truce between the Huthi rebels and Saudi Arabia.
The restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a significant development that could lead to increased stability in the Middle East. However, it remains to be seen how the two countries will navigate their long-standing rivalries and differences, particularly in conflict zones such as Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.