Saudi Arabia and Iran take next step in re-establishing ties, exchange ambassadors

The Saudi and Iranian embassies had already resumed operations over the previous months. The developments are a result of an agreement in March which was brokered with Chinese mediation

September 06, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Alireza Bigdeli (second right) at the reopening of his country's embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 6. Photo: Xinhua/Wang Haizhou

Saudi Arabia and Iran have received each other’s ambassadors months after the two nations restored full diplomatic relations in a deal brokered by China, news reports stated on September 5, Tuesday. The Saudi ambassador Abdullah Alanazi arrived in the Iranian capital Tehran and the Iranian ambassador Alireza Enayati arrived in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, after a seven-year long gap to take charge of their respective embassies. The Saudi embassy in Iran had resumed operations in the month of August while the Iranian embassy reopened in June.

Following his arrival in Iran, the Saudi ambassador, in a statement, noted that his government recognized the “importance of strengthening ties, increasing engagement … and taking the relationship to broader horizons,” adding that “the kingdom and Iran are neighbors and possess many economic components, natural resources and advantages that contribute to enhancing aspects of development, prosperity, stability and security in the region.” The Iranian government also welcomed the development, with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi saying that “the cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia and increased cooperation among the regional countries on bilateral and multilateral aspects as well as over the Islamic world’s issues at the governmental and popular levels will elevate the standing of regional countries in the regional and global equations and restrict the possibility of foreign interference.”

Relations between the two regional powers had reached their lowest point in 2016 after the Saudi government executed Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr. The execution led to widespread anger and outrage in Iran and nationwide protests, including the storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the Saudi consulate in Mashhad. In response, Saudi Arabia severed all diplomatic ties with Iran and recalled its ambassador.

The relations between the countries were further strained after the Donald Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and US attempts to get countries in the region to normalize ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia is still engaged in discussions with the US over terms for a possible normalization. Throughout this period, the US and Israel cited the “threat” from Iran as a reason to pursue normalization. The war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and Iran support different sections, was also an obstacle to re-establishing ties.

In these circumstances, the global community was taken by surprise when in March, Saudi Arabia and Iran reached an agreement with Chinese mediation. In April, they announced that they would be resuming full diplomatic relations with immediate effect. Saudi Arabia and Iran were also invited to join the BRICS group of countries during the bloc’s recent summit held in South Africa.