Implementation of Iranian-Saudi Normalization

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Policy Briefs Program

April 11, 2023

On Thursday, April 6, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud met in Beijing for the first formal diplomatic engagement in over seven years. The two parties discussed expanding partnership efforts to include resumption of flights, public and private sector collaboration, and visa access to the citizens of both countries. Days later, Saudi officials visited Iran to discuss the re-opening of a Riyadh embassy and Mashhad consulate, a necessary step in implementing the March 10 normalization deal.

The April 8th meeting in Tehran further solidified Iran and Saudi Arabia’s normalization agreement which was brokered by China last month. Highlighted in Israel National News, “the minister called the visit part of ‘implementing the tripartite agreement’ reached on March 10 between the two regional powers, brokered by China, to restore ties ruptured in 2016. When Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met in Beijing on Thursday, they vowed to bring security and stability to the turbulent Gulf region.”

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are organizing delegations to partake in diplomatic visits and embassy reopening initiatives. Shown in Saudi Gazette, “in the same vein, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that its technical team will travel to Saudi Arabia, later this week, to inspect the Iranian embassy in Riyadh, and to prepare arrangements for the reopening of the Iranian embassy.”

Beyond the resumption of diplomatic ties, the delegations discussed a number of areas of mutual interest, including the resumption of flights and increased visas for both countries. Expressed in Gulf Daily News, “‘the two sides expressed their aspiration to intensify consultative meetings and discuss ways of co-operation to achieve more positive prospects for relations, given the natural resources and economic potential that the two countries possess, and great opportunities to achieve mutual benefits,’ the joint statement added. ‘The two sides also agreed to enhance their co-operation in every field that would help achieve security and stability in the region and serve the interests of its countries and people.’”

The facilitation of this agreement has increased hope for a resolution to several regional conflicts, including the crisis in Lebanon, where Saudi Arabia and Iran support opposing factions. Bahrain News analyzes: “Lebanese politics have been broadly split for years between Hezbollah and a pro-Saudi coalition…Lebanon is facing an economic meltdown, without a president or a fully empowered cabinet, while the opposing sides fail to reach an agreement almost on all burning issues facing the country…Nabih Berri, the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, recently described the accord achieved in Beijing as ‘historic’ and said the ‘positive reading of the news should also prompt Lebanon’s politicians to quickly elect a president.’”

This rapprochement also signals hope for Yemen, which has endured 8 years of civil war. Underscored in Gulf News, last Sunday, Saudi officials were in Sana’a, Yemen “for talks with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, as part of international efforts to find a settlement to Yemen’s nine-year conflict…Mohammed al-Bukaiti, a Houthi leader, said earlier on Twitter that Saudi and Omani officials would discuss ‘ways to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region.’ He said achieving an honorable peace between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia would be ‘a triumph for both parties,’ and urged all sides to take steps to ‘preserve a peaceful atmosphere and prepare to turn the page of the past.’”

Iran has signaled its support for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Yemen. Quoted in Tehran Times, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani stated that “Iran is in favor of extending a cease-fire that would allow the siege on the impoverished nation to be lifted and humanitarian help to be delivered to its citizens. The Iranian official expressed optimism that the changing regional conditions would lead to a long-term truce in Yemen for the benefit of the Yemeni people. In order to negotiate a long-term truce, Saudi and Omani envoys met with representatives of Yemen’s Ansarullah movement on Saturday in Sanaa.”
While there is optimism that this normalization will improve regional stability and partnerships,  this agreement undoubtedly exemplifies China’s increased diplomatic role in the region. Written in Gulf Times, “Washington has cautiously welcomed the rapprochement between the Saudis and US adversary Iran despite the role of China, which it sees as its biggest global challenger. ‘If this dialogue leads to concrete actions by Iran to curb its destabilising activities in the region, including the proliferation of dangerous weapons, then of course we would welcome that,’ US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters in Washington.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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