In a major development for the Middle East, Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties and reopen their embassies within two months. The foreign ministers of the two regional rivals met in Beijing on Thursday to discuss the steps towards normalizing their relations under a surprise deal brokered by China last month.
The meeting was the first formal encounter of their top diplomats since 2016, when Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran after its embassy in Tehran was attacked by protesters following the execution of a Shiite cleric by Riyadh. The two countries have been at odds over various issues, including Iran’s nuclear program, its support for militias across the region, and the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia leads a coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The deal, announced on March 10, was facilitated by China, which has been expanding its influence and economic interests in the Middle East. China is a major oil importer from both Iran and Saudi Arabia, and has also signed a 25-year strategic partnership with Tehran last year. Beijing has offered to mediate between the two countries and help them resolve their disputes peacefully.
According to a joint statement by Iran, Saudi Arabia and China, the deal stipulated affirming “the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs of states”. It also said that Iran and Saudi Arabia would cooperate on regional and international issues of mutual interest and work together to promote peace and stability in the Middle East.
The deal could have significant implications for the region and beyond, as it could reduce tensions, foster dialogue, and pave the way for cooperation on various challenges, such as ending the Yemen war, combating terrorism, and addressing climate change. It could also affect the relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia with other actors, such as the United States, Israel, Turkey, and Russia.
The United States, which has been a longtime ally of Saudi Arabia and a foe of Iran, has welcomed the deal as a positive step for regional security. However, it has also expressed concern about China’s role in the Middle East and its potential impact on U.S. interests and values. The U.S. has been trying to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which was abandoned by former President Trump in 2018, but has faced resistance from Tehran over sanctions relief and other issues.
The deal also comes amid growing tensions between China and the U.S. over various issues, such as trade, human rights, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Ukraine. China has accused the U.S. of interfering in its internal affairs and undermining its sovereignty, while the U.S. has criticized China for its authoritarian policies and aggressive behavior. The two countries have also competed for global leadership and influence in different regions of the world.
The Iran-Saudi Arabia deal is seen as a diplomatic coup for China, which has demonstrated its ability to play a constructive role in resolving conflicts and building bridges between adversaries. It has also shown its willingness to challenge the U.S.-led global order and offer an alternative vision based on mutual respect and cooperation. Whether the deal will lead to lasting peace and stability in the Middle East remains to be seen, but it is certainly a historic moment for the region and the world.