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Restoring Relations: Iran and Saudi Arabia to Reconcile After 4 Years

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Regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on Friday to restore diplomatic relations severed since 2016.

As part of the rapprochement, mediated by China, Iran’s Shiite majority and Sunni majority Saudis will restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies. The decision will calm years of tensions between the two countries.

The deal, concluded in Beijing earlier this week amid a ceremonial National People’s Congress ceremony, represents a major diplomatic victory for China as Gulf Arab states see the United States slowly withdrawing from the broader Middle East.

It also comes as diplomats try to end a years-long war in Yemen, a conflict in which Iran and Saudi Arabia are deeply entrenched.

The two countries issued a joint statement on the agreement with China. Chinese state media did not immediately mention the agreement.

Iranian state media published photos and video clips that it described as being taken in China for the meeting. It showed Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, with a Saudi official and Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat.

“After implementing the decision, the foreign ministers of the two countries will meet to prepare for the exchange of ambassadors,” Iranian state television said. She added that the talks were held over four days.

The joint statement called for restoring relations and reopening embassies “within a maximum of two months.”

In footage broadcast by Iranian media, Wang is heard offering “sincere congratulations” on the “wisdom” of the two countries.

“Both sides have shown sincerity,” he said. China fully supports this agreement.”

And China, which recently hosted hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, is also a big buyer of Saudi oil. President Xi Jinping, who was just granted a third five-year term earlier on Friday, visited Riyadh in December to attend meetings with oil-rich Gulf Arab states that are crucial to China’s energy supplies.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Shamkhani as describing the talks as “clear, transparent, comprehensive and constructive”.

Shamkhani was quoted as saying, “Removing misunderstandings and future views in relations between Tehran and Riyadh will certainly lead to an improvement in regional stability and security, in addition to increasing cooperation between the Arab Gulf states and the Islamic world to manage current challenges.” .

years of stress

Saudi officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press. Shortly after the Iranian announcement, Saudi state media began publishing the same statement.

Tensions escalated between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The kingdom severed ties with Iran in 2016 after protesters overran Saudi diplomatic posts there. A few days ago, Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric, which led to the outbreak of demonstrations.

In the years since, tensions have risen dramatically across the Middle East since the United States unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

Iran has been blamed for a series of attacks at the time, including one on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in 2019, which temporarily halved the kingdom’s crude production.

Although the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi group claimed the attack initially, Western countries and experts blamed the attack on Tehran. Iran has always denied carrying out the attack. It also denied carrying out other attacks later attributed to the Islamic Republic.

The Houthis seized Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, in September 2014 and forced the internationally recognized government into exile in Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led coalition armed with weapons and American intelligence entered the war on the side of the exiled Yemeni government in March 2015. Years of inconclusive fighting have caused a humanitarian catastrophe and pushed the poorest country in the Arab world to the brink of famine.

A six-month ceasefire in the Yemen war, the longest in the conflict, expired in October despite diplomatic efforts to renew it. This led to fears that the war could escalate again. More than 150,000 people have been killed in Yemen during the fighting, including more than 14,500 civilians.

In recent months, negotiations have been underway, including in Oman, a longtime interlocutor between Iran and the United States. Some are hoping to reach an agreement before the holy month of Ramadan, which begins later in March.

The US Navy and its allies recently seized a number of shipments of weapons that they described as coming from Iran and destined for Yemen.

Iran denies arming the Houthis, although the weapons seized mirror other weapons seen on the battlefield in the hands of the rebels. The United Nations arms embargo prevents countries from sending weapons to the Houthis.

However, it is still not clear what this means for America. Although long seen as a guarantor of energy security in the Middle East, regional leaders have become increasingly wary of Washington’s intentions after its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reported deal.

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