In a remarkable turn of events, Iran and Saudi Arabia have taken a significant step towards reconciliation by reopening their diplomatic missions after seven years of strained relations. The reopening of the Iranian Embassy in Riyadh and the consulate general in Jeddah, along with Iran’s permanent mission to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), marks a crucial milestone in the ongoing detente between the two regional rivals.
The diplomatic breakthrough follows two years of mediated efforts by Iraq, Oman, and China to facilitate dialogue and foster understanding between Iran and Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia is yet to finalize plans to reopen its own diplomatic missions in Iran, the recent reopening of Iranian missions signifies the progress made in burying the hatchet.
The process of reconciliation gained momentum in March, and the reopening of diplomatic missions comes on the heels of a meeting between the top diplomats of both countries at a BRICS gathering in Cape Town. This meeting, the second of its kind, underscored the commitment of Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore diplomatic ties and foster improved relations.
The detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia has far-reaching implications for the region, as it has opened doors for similar rapprochement between Tehran and other estranged Arab countries. Following Saudi Arabia’s initial severance of ties with Iran in 2016, several of its allies followed suit or downgraded relations. However, the UAE and Kuwait have already restored diplomatic ties with Iran, while efforts to revive relations with Bahrain, Jordan, and Egypt have gained momentum.
Experts view the Iran-Saudi reconciliation as a positive development for both countries and the wider region. The potential for increased cooperation spans various sectors, including security, economics, and regional peace initiatives. Iran and Saudi Arabia can collaborate within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to enhance oil exports and within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to foster unity and peace among member countries.
The impact of this detente is already evident in ongoing peace talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebel group in Yemen, normalization efforts between Riyadh and Damascus in Syria, and the active pursuit of resolving a political stalemate in Lebanon. However, there is still room for greater cooperation between the two sides.
It is important to note that Israel perceives the Iran-Saudi reconciliation as a threat and seeks to disrupt the improving relations between Tehran and Riyadh. The United States, while prioritizing the normalization of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, has been unable to halt the process of reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Another significant aspect of the detente is the resumption of bilateral trade between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iranian officials have stated that the process to start exports to Saudi Arabia has begun, and Saudi Arabia’s finance minister has acknowledged the vast investment opportunities in Iran. There is immense trade potential between the two countries, with sectors such as steel, saffron, carpets, cement, and dried fruit being the focus of bilateral trade.
The reopening of diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia is expected to revive and strengthen trade ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia. While there may be obstacles such as banking restrictions and legal ambiguities, experts believe that the two countries will find a way to overcome them. Saudi Arabia can invest in areas not covered by sanctions or seek waivers from the United States in specific cases.
The reopening of Iran’s diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia signifies a positive and smooth restart of relations. It is a testament to the power of diplomacy and holds the promise of a more stable and cooperative future for Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the wider region.