An Iranian delegation arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to pave the way for the reopening of Iranian diplomatic missions, as the two most important regional powers in the Gulf prepare to resume their relationship, severed more than seven years ago.
The Iranian visit comes after the visit of a similar Saudi delegation to Tehran on Saturday to discuss mechanisms for reopening the Kingdom’s of Saudi Arabia missions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and after the meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries last Thursday in Beijing, where they pledged to achieve stability in the Middle East.
“The Iranian delegation arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday to visit and reopen the embassy and consulate in line with the recent agreement between the two countries,” the official Iranian IRNA news agency reported.
IRNA stated that one team will travel to Jeddah to prepare for the reopening of the Iranian consulate there and its representation in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, while the other team will remain in Riyadh to reopen the embassy.
It’s the first official visit by Iranian officials to Saudi Arabia since the visit of officials of the Iranian Hajj Agency to the Kingdom in December 2019, a Saudi official told AFP.
It’s expected that the next step in the path of restoring relations between the two countries will be the visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Riyadh after receiving an invitation from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, as confirmed by Iranian officials, an invitation that Saudi Arabia has not yet confirmed.
It will be the first visit by an Iranian president to Riyadh since Mohammad Khatami’s visit in 1999.
These accelerated diplomatic moves are part of the normalization of relations between Riyadh and Tehran, following the sudden announcement of an agreement to resume relations between the two countries under Chinese auspices last month.
Iran and Saudi Arabia, two regional rivals, have fought regional conflicts by proxy, most notably the war in Yemen, as well as in Iraq and Lebanon.
The two countries held a number of rounds of dialogue in Baghdad and the Sultanate of Oman before reaching an agreement in Beijing, which was negotiated over a period of five days between the Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, and his Saudi counterpart, Massad bin Muhammad al Aiban.
Countries in the region and beyond have hailed the Iran-Saudi Arabia deal as a positive step towards stability that could pave the way for more regional diplomatic rapprochement.
Observers hope that the agreement will contribute to the calm in Yemen, where the two countries have been waging a proxy war since 2015.
This may also apply to other countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, where Iran is more present than ever before.
While Tehran and Riyadh exchange diplomatic visits in the course of resuming diplomatic relations, Saudi Arabia is also trying to put an end to the war in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is negotiating with the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, eight years after it intervened militarily to prevent them from controlling the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula.
On Monday, the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Muhammad al Jaber, announced that his visit to the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, to meet with Houthi officials aimed at stabilizing the truce and discussing ways to push for a comprehensive and sustainable political solution in Yemen.
Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition to fight the Houthis, after the Houthis seized Sanaa and large areas of the country, forcing the Yemeni government to flee.
Analysts said that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, wants to get out of the eight-year-old war to focus its efforts on giant domestic projects aimed at diversifying the sources of its oil-dependent economy.