Regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran announced on Friday they are restoring full diplomatic relations in a deal brokered by China, a move that could reduce tensions in the region and asserts China’s growing influence in the Gulf.
The agreement paves the way for Saudi Arabia and Iran to reopen their embassies and diplomatic missions within the coming two months. It also revives accords on security cooperation and trade and investment.
Moreover, in their joint statement, the two countries affirmed their “respect for the sovereignty of states” and “non-interference in internal affairs of states,” language underscoring Saudi Arabia’s concerns about Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a shadowy force that oversees sectarian Shia militia proxies in the region.
The White House said the Saudis kept the U.S. informed of the talks and that it welcomes any moves that de-escalate tensions in the region. Countries around the Middle East and the United Nations’ secretary-general also responded positively to the news.
This agreement comes seven years after ties between the regional heavyweights was ruptured when the Saudi embassy in Tehran was ransacked by Iranian protesters angry at a mass execution of 47 people in Saudi Arabia. Among those executed in 2016 was Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent figure who’d led protests against the government demanding greater rights for the large Shia minority in the Sunni Muslim-led kingdom.
This agreement could reduce tensions that had spiked dramatically, culminating in a stunning missile and drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities in 2019. That attack led to the suspension of more than 5% of the world’s daily crude oil production. The United States and Saudi Arabia accused Iran of sponsoring the attack — an allegation denied by Iran.
By 2021, Saudi Arabia and Iran began engaging in discreet lower-level direct talks, hosted by Iraq and later Oman. This agreement elevates that dialogue so that the two countries’ foreign ministers can meet.