The foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia met in Beijing, China for the first time in seven years, after China brokered a deal to restore ties between the two regional rivals. The meeting marks a significant milestone in the efforts to end the hostility between the two countries that has fuelled conflicts across the Middle East. In a joint statement, the two countries confirmed that they will launch arrangements to reopen embassies and consulates within the two-month period stipulated in the deal. They also expressed their intention to expand cooperation, including the resumption of flights, bilateral visits of official and private sector delegations, and facilitating visa grants for the citizens of the two countries.
China played a crucial role in the breakthrough, which has disrupted the dynamics in the Middle East, where the United States has been the main mediator for decades. The deal was facilitated by China’s President Xi Jinping, who spoke by phone with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud about several issues in March. The relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia began to deteriorate in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in the Yemen war, where the Iran-aligned Houthi movement ousted a Saudi-backed government and took over the capital, Sanaa. The situation escalated in 2016 when Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran after its embassy in Tehran was stormed during a dispute between the two countries over Riyadh’s execution of a Shia cleric.
The deal could lead to improved security for Saudi Arabia, as the kingdom has blamed Iran for arming the Houthis who have carried out missile and drone attacks on its cities and oil facilities. In 2019, Riyadh blamed a massive attack on Aramco oil facilities, which knocked out half of its oil output, directly on the Islamic Republic. Tehran denied those allegations.
The meeting between the two foreign ministers was described as “good and forward-looking” by Iranian state TV. The move is a significant step towards peace and stability in the region, as the two countries have been at odds for many years. The breakthrough facilitated by China has challenged the traditional role of the United States as the main mediator in the region.