Iran and Saudi Arabia have been regional rivals for more than three decades. Most recently, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said it was impossible for Riyadh to have a dialogue with Tehran. "Its (Iran's) logic is that the Imam Mahdi will come and they must prepare the fertile environment for the arrival of the awaited Mahdi and they must control the Muslim world,” he said in a televised interview on May 2, 2017.
Tensions date back to the 1979 Iranian revolution. The Saudi monarchy, which based its legitimacy on Islam, felt its dominance threatened by the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Relations were strained throughout the 1980s, as Saudi Arabia quietly supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Tensions eased slightly under President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) and Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), who sought to improve Iran’s relations with its neighbors.
But movement toward rapprochement stalled in 2005, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power and reverted to a hardline stance on foreign policy. The Arab Spring in 2011 further aggravated tensions, especially in Bahrain, where Shiites protested against the Sunni royal family. Saudi Arabia sent troops to quell the uprising and blamed Iran for provoking the unrest.
Tehran tried to improve relations with Riyadh after President Hassan Rouhani’s election in 2013. But the two countries clashed over regional conflicts, particularly in Syria and Yemen. And in September 2015, hundreds of Iranians were killed in a stampede during the annual hajj ritual in Saudi Arabia. Tehran accused Riyadh of mismanagement, and Saudi officials accused Iran of playing politics in the aftermath of the tragedy. After Saudi Arabia executed Shiite cleric Nimr al Nimr in January 2016, protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran. As a result, Riyadh severed diplomatic ties with Tehran.
Tensions further escalated after the two cut ties. Saudi Arabia opposed Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile advances. In 2018, it threatened to pursue nuclear weapons if Iran produces a bomb. In September 2019, Riyadh blamed Iran for a drone and cruise missile attack on two major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. It vowed to respond to the “terrorist aggression.” Iran denied any responsibility for the attacks. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned that Tehran would respond to a U.S. or Saudi retaliatory strike with “all-out war.”
In 2021, Iran and Saudi Arabia began a sporadic dialogue that was mediated by Iraq. Oman was also involved in facilitating diplomacy. But Tehran and Riyadh failed to reach an agreement in five rounds of talks in Iraq between April 2021 and April 2022.
In March 2023, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore diplomatic ties seven years after severing relations. The regional rivals committed to reopening embassies in Tehran and Riyadh by May 2023. The deal, brokered by China, also included the implementation of a security cooperation agreement signed in 2001 and a 1998 pact to enhance cooperation on trade, investment, technology, and culture.
The following is a timeline of Iran-Saudi relations since the 1979 revolution.
1981: Iranians clash with Saudi police after chanting political slogans in Mecca and Medina. Iranian officials accuse Saudi authorities of discriminating against Iranian pilgrims.
.@AdelAlJubeir: “everyone knows that the #Iranians are present in #Yemen, provide support for the #Houthis, supply them with weapons…”— Saudi Embassy (@SaudiEmbassyUSA) October 14, 2015
Why do you bomb oppressed people of Yemen, destroy infrastructure of a weak country & kill women & children? #Yemenattack— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) April 15, 2015
January 2016: Saudi Arabia executes Sheikh Nimr al Nimr, a prominent Shiite leader who supported anti-government demonstrations, along with 46 others for alleged terror-related offenses. The move prompts protests or condemnation from Shiites in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Lebanon, and Yemen. In Iran, protestors burn part of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and storm the compound. Demonstrators try to attack the Saudi Consulate in Mashhad. Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Bahrain, and Djibouti sever diplomatic ties with Iran. And the UAE downgrades its relations with the Islamic Republic.
Iran Foreign Ministry urges police to end violence & restore calm at Saudi embassy & protect diplomatic properties. pic.twitter.com/H5X3w9zsb4— Negar نگار (@NegarMortazavi) January 2, 2016
May 2016: Saudi Arabia and Iran fail to reach a deal over security and logistics concerning the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Saudi officials accused Iranian counterparts of walking out of talks despite offering solutions to the Iranian demands. Riyadh's pilgrimage ministry issues a statement saying the Iranian government “will be responsible in front of Allah Almighty and its people for the inability of the Iranian citizens to perform Hajj for this year,” adding that the Saudi leadership “has stressed its categorical rejection to politicize Hajj rituals.”
Iran had barred its pilgrims from traveling to Mecca to take part in the annual Hajj after claiming Saudi Arabia had failed to guarantee the safety of its citizens. This was primarily in response to the Hajj stampede that occurred the previous year and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, most of which were Iranian.
September 2016: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accuses the kingdom of “murdering” pilgrims during the 2015 Hajj. Khamenei criticizes Saudi management of the pilgrimage, calling on Iranians and other Muslims to hold them accountable. “The stampede demonstrated that this government is not qualified to manage the Two Holy Mosques,” said the Supreme Leader.
Hajj hijacked by oppressors,Muslims should reconsider management of Hajj https://t.co/17xsFAY8vt #alSaudHijacksHajj pic.twitter.com/nv39JnmQQ0— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) September 5, 2016
Abdul Aziz al Sheikh, a top Saudi Sunni cleric, responds by dismissing Khamenei’s comments as “not surprising” considering Iranians are “not Muslims” and their “hostility towards Muslims is an old one.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif then responded via Twitter.
Indeed; no resemblance between Islam of Iranians & most Muslims & bigoted extremism that Wahhabi top cleric & Saudi terror masters preach.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 6, 2016
Khamenei also took to Twitter to accuse the Saudis of “depriving” Iranians of the opportunity to attend the Hajj.
Saudi rulers who've obstructed path of Allah this year are disgraced & misguided#الشجرة_الملعونة #alSaudHijacksHajj pic.twitter.com/gfP5jCHI2C— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) September 5, 2016
March 2017: Saudi Arabia announces that Iranian pilgrims will attend and participate in this year’s annual Hajj after an absence in 2016 due to tensions between the two countries. “The ministry of Hajj and the Iranian organization have completed all necessary measures to ensure Iranian pilgrims perform Hajj 1438 according to the procedures followed by all Muslim countries,” the official Saudi Press Agency said.
March 14: Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House. A senior adviser tells Bloomberg that the two leaders both opposed “Iranian expansionist moves in the region” and support for terrorist organizations.
April 2017: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Iran is ready to establish good relations with all neighboring countries, including Saudi Arabia. “What happened in front of the Saudi embassy in Tehran was carried out by some reckless people and was condemned by all institutions,” Rouhani said, referring to protests that occurred following Saudi Arabia’s execution of prominent Shiite leader Sheikh Nimr al Nimr in January 2016. “It seems that Saudi Arabia was preparing to deal inappropriately with Iran, and I think it was all due to the defeats it had suffered in Yemen and Syria, so these defeats caused Saudi Arabia to be resentful and so it wanted somehow to compensate for what had happened to it. The embassy had material losses that could have been compensated but Riyadh gave the subject more than its size,” he said. “The positive steps that have been taken so far will lead to allowing Iranian pilgrims to join other pilgrims in the coming Hajj season and Saudi Arabia will stop its illegal measures in Yemen, which are an obstacle to better relations with it.”
May 2, 2017: In a televised interview, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says there is no space for dialogue with Iran due to its ambitions “to control the Islamic world,” and its desire to spread its Shia doctrine. When asked if there was a possibility for direct dialogue with Iran, he replied: “How can I come to an understanding with someone, or a regime, that has an anchoring belief built on an extremist ideology? What are the interests between us? How can I come to an understanding with this?” He added, “We know we are a main target of Iran. We are not waiting until there becomes a battle in Saudi Arabia, so we will work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.”
On the same day, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reveals that Pakistani, Indonesian, Kazakh and Russian officials had offered to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that Tehran was open to dialogue.
May 3, 2017: Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, reacts to the Saudi prince’s comments. “These comments are proof that Saudi Arabia supports terrorism and seeks confrontational and destructive policies in the region and towards Iran.”
May 4, 2017: Iran’s U.N. ambassador, Gholamali Khoshroo, sends a letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Security Council President Elbio Rosselli describing Prince Salman’s remarks as “unlawful and inflammatory.” He asks Guterres to circulate the letter as a document of the U.N. Security Council. The following is the full text.
Upon instructions from my Government, I wish to bring to your attention the recent unlawful and inflammatory statement made by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- who is also the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia.
On 2 May 2017, Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated, "We will work so that the battle is on their side, inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia." While categorically rejecting the baseless allegations against my country, I wish to underline that his statement reflects an unveiled threat against the Islamic Republic of Iran, in violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, as well as a clear admission of the long-known complicity of the Saudi regime in acts of terror and violence inside Iran, the latest of which resulted in the murder of 9 Iranian border guards, by the Saudi-financed armed bands. This blatant threat and admission is being made by a regime with a long record of supporting aggression and using terrorist and extremist groups for its short-sighted and dangerous ambitions in the region and beyond.
Over the past four decades, our region and the world have suffered tremendously as a consequence of Saudi insecurity and misplaced obsession with Iran, clearly manifested in the above-quoted statement. This has led to irresponsible, provocative and ill-fated policies and practices of promoting and financing extremism globally and short-sighted and self-defeating adventurism in the region.
We all – including Saudi authorities -- need to be reminded of the fact that this misplaced obsession and insecurity lead to the Kingdom’s unreserved support and financing of Saddam Hussein’s aggression against Iran from 1980 to 1988, whose devastating consequence was not confined to the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who became victims of Saddam’s aggression and use of chemical weapons, but engulfed the entire region after his invasion of Kuwait and threats against KSA, biting the hands that had fed and sustained him.
The creation of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the 90’s, sponsorship of terror and instability in Iraq since 2003, and formation, financing and arming of ISIS, Al-Nusrah and other terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria over the past several years are other manifestations of the same Saudi misplaced obsession, which have brought misery and insecurity to the entire globe. It is imperative for the international community to take necessary action to compel Saudi Arabia to stop its reckless sponsorship of terrorism and extremism in the region and across the globe, and particularly its blatant and open aggression, starvation and genocide against the people of Yemen.
In contrast to Saudi rulers, the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that peace and stability is in the common interest of every state in the Persian Gulf region and no country can attain security at the expense of insecurity for others. We have no desire, nor any interest, in an escalation of tension in our neighborhood. We continue to stand ready for dialogue and accommodation to promote regional stability, combat destabilizing extremist violence and reject sectarian hatred. We hope Saudi Arabia will be persuaded to heed the call of reason.
I should be grateful if you would have the present letter circulated as a document of the Security Council.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
May 7, 2017: Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan responded to Prince Salman’s comments in an interview with Al Manar TV. “We recommend them (Saudis) not to make any ignorant move, but if they do, we will not leave anywhere intact except Mecca and Medina,” he said.
Late May 2017: President Trump visited Riyadh, where he signed a $110 billion arms deal. In a joint statement, Saudi Arabia and the United States “agreed on the need to contain Iran’s malign interference in the internal affairs of other states, instigation of sectarian strife, support of terrorism and armed proxies, and efforts to destabilize the countries in the region.” After Trump’s visit, Iranian leaders harshly criticized Saudi Arabia’s regional policies.
Iran—fresh from real elections—attacked by @POTUS in that bastion of democracy & moderation. Foreign Policy or simply milking KSA of $480B? pic.twitter.com/ahfvRxK3HV— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 21, 2017
First concrete result of POTUS cozying up to despots in Riyadh: Deadly attack on peaceful protesters by emboldened Bahrain regime. Google it— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 23, 2017
May 27, 2017: Supreme Leader Khamenei condemned Saudi Arabia for trying to “gain the friendship of Islam’s enemies” (e.g., the United States) but dealing harshly with Muslims. “They oppress their own people in this manner, and oppress the people of Yemen and Bahrain in other ways. But they are going to perish,” he said in a speech marking the start of the holy month of Ramadan.
June 5-22, 2017: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic relations and imposed trade and travel bans with Qatar for its alleged support for terrorism. The group issued 13 demands for Qatar to resolve the dispute. The demands included shutting down diplomatic posts in Iran, expelling members of the IRGC and only conducting trade and commerce with Iran that complied with U.S. sanctions.
June 7-11 2017: At least 12 people were killed and 46 were wounded in twin terror attacks on the Iranian Parliament and the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini. This Islamic State claimed responsibility, but Iranian officials blamed Saudi Arabia for the attacks, pointing to Mohammed bin Salman's May remarks threatening to bring the battle to Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused Riyadh of being "actively engaged" in supporting militants inside Iran days after the attacks.
Such crimes that show foul play & humiliation of perpetrators & their masters are too small to interfere w/Iranian nation's determination.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) June 9, 2017
The outcome of these crimes is nothing but increased hatred towards US govt. & their agents in the region, such as Saudi regime. #Tehran— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) June 9, 2017
August 30, 2017: Iranian President Rouhani accused Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorists in Yemen and Syria. "Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen and their support of terrorists in Yemen and Syria are main hurdles to improve ties between Tehran and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia should stop backing terrorists," Rouhani said.
November 9, 2017
Iranian officials instead blamed to Saudi aggression in Yemen. "How should the Yemeni people react to bombardment of their country. So they are not allowed to use their own weapons? You stop the bombardment first and see if the Yemenis would not do the same,” President Hassan Rouhani said. But remnants of four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by the Houthis on May 19, July 22, July 26 and November 4, 2017 appear to have been designed and manufactured by Iran, according to a confidential U.N. report from November 2017.
December 2017: Yemeni Houthi rebels fired another missile at Saudi Arabia, but it was intercepted by Saudi's air defense system before it reached Riyadh. "This hostile and indiscriminate act by the Iran-back Houthi armed group proves the continued involvement of the Iranian regime in supporting (the) Houthi armed group with qualitative capabilities," a Saudi spokesman said. Iran denied the allegations.
On the very day US regurgitates Saudi & Emirati propaganda on #Yemen, #CAR report confirms US & Saudi weapons end up in the hands of ISIS. With this U.S. administration, it seems hypocrisy knows no bounds. https://t.co/Gf7kAwieTE— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) December 15, 2017
January 16, 2018: Houthi rebels said they fired a short-range ballistic missile toward a regional airport in the Saudi border province of Jizan. Saudi defense forces said they shot down the missile over Jizan. "This hostile action by the Houthi group, which is backed by Iran, proves the Iranian regime's continuous support for the armed Houthi group by providing them with capabilities, which is in violation of UN resolutions," said spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Colonel Turki al-Malki.
Governments like Saudi regime, which help the U.S. and the Zionist regime, are certainly betraying the Islamic Ummah and the World of Islam.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) January 16, 2018
February 2018: Saudi Arabia supported a UN draft resolution by the United States, Britain and France that would condemn Iran for failing to stop Yemen's Houthi rebels from obtaining ballistic missiles. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir said the resolution would help hold Iran accountable for its "radical and aggressive behavior" in the region. “In order to ensure than Iran comports itself with international law, we must have firmer positions with regards to ballistic missiles and with regards to Iran’s support for terrorism,” al-Jubeir said a the Munich Security Conference. “Iran must be held accountable."
Jubeir also blamed Iran for heightening regional tensions and called for a fundamental change in the Iranian regime. "We didn't attack Iran," Jubeir said. "Iran is the one that is attacking us. Iran has started to undermine Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, including countries in Africa."
"The US and its local clients in our region are suffering from the consequences of their own wrong choices," Iranain Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded. "But they use this and other fora to revive the hysteria on Iran's foreign policy and try to obscure its realities."
Later in the month, Zarif accused Saudi Arabia of war crimes in Yemen on Twitter.
Desperate attempt @ UNSC by US&UK to cover up complicity in 3 yrs of Saudi & Emirati war crimes in Yemen failed. Since the very start, Iran called for ceasefire, aid, dialogue & inclusive government. This—not a delusion of military victory or accusations—remains the only solution— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) February 27, 2018
March 15, 2018: Saudi Arabia said it will develop nuclear weapons if Iran does so. “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a CBS interview. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi blasted the crown prince for his remarks. “He has no idea of politics apart from bitter talk that emanates from a lack of foresight ... His remarks do not deserve a response, because he is a delusional, naive person, who never talks, but with lies and bitterness,” Qassemi responded.
March 29, 2018: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called for more economic and political pressure on Iran, saying it was needed to avoid a direct military confrontation in the region. "We have to succeed so as to avoid military conflict," Prince Mohammed told the Wall Street Journal. "If we don't succeed in what we are trying to do, we will likely have war with Iran in 10-15 years."
It's official: Supplying bombs, targets and refueling #Saudi warplanes is apparently not enough. US now proclaiming that it's "doing the planning" in war on #Yemen too. US complicity in world's biggest humanitarian disaster unfathomable.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) March 29, 2018
April 9, 2018: Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami responded to Saudi Arabia's late March comments in the Wall Street Journal, saying the crown prince had fallen into the trap of the illusion of power. "Those words have been said by a man who has little experience in state affairs," Hatami said. "Hitler acted under an illusion of power, believing himself to be strong. So did Saddam Hussein [when he attacked Iran in 1980]. When the Americans attacked Iraq, they too had this delusion of power and strength. They thought they would occupy Iraq, appoint a new ruler and that would be it. But in all important issues they have failed miserably and plunged the country into the deepest hell."
Aprili 10-11, 2018: In a visit to France, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused Iran of supporting terrorism in the region. “Saudi rulers have made themselves as notorious as Zionist regime’s officials in being epitomes of crime and aggression in the region,” Bahram Qassemi said in response.“Those who have placed their names and countries in the list of the murderers and aggressors of the region and are considered the same with notorious aggressive and murderous dictators of the region like Saddam should know that levelling baseless and illusionary accusations or bringing up hallucinatory claims will not change the fact that the countries and nations of the region along with whoever who monitors regional developments, are aware of Saudi Arabia’s role in creating, spreading, and arming extremist pro-violence terrorists who have emerged in different eras with different names like Al-Qaeda, ISIL and so forth and have committed numerous murders and humanitarian catastrophes in some neighboring, regional, and world countries," he added. "The current Saudi rulers, along with the Zionist regime, have become the symbols of crime and aggression in the Middle East and they have added up to instability and regional woes by interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries of the region."
April 14, 2018: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei accused the United States of creating ISIS with Saudi money.
The U.S. played a major role in creating #ISIS, they entered where ISIS was trapped to save them. They raised the wicked creatures [ISIS] with Saudi money, turning them [ISIS] lose on Iraqi and Syrian nations; but, resistance against the US and their agents saved these countries.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) April 14, 2018
U.S. officials agitate Saudis, creating discord and chaos in West Asia. Why don't you agitate the Zionists? Because they want to turn Muslims against one another; thus, avoiding the burden of an outcome from confronting the Islamic Republic and the powerful Iranian nation.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) April 30, 2018
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir says his country “will do whatever it takes to protect (its) people” if Iran restarts its nuclear weapons program, including developing its own nuclear weapons capability https://t.co/eUcIn3dpRR— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 9, 2018
September 24, 2018: IRGC Commander Gen. Hossein Salami vowed revenge for an attack on a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahvaz two days earlier. He implicated the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel to the attack. “You are responsible for these actions; you will face the repercussions,” warned Salami.
December 9, 2018: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman rebuked Iran during a GCC summit over its interference in other countries’ domestic affairs. “Extremist and terrorist powers continue to threaten our security in the Gulf and in the Arab world,” he said. “The Iranian regime is continuing its hostile policies and continues to intervene in other nations' internal affairs.” In response, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the “region has had far too many strongmen who have only caused war & misery.”
April 20, 2019: Iran and Saudi Arabia participated in a summit hosted by Baghdad to ease regional tensions. “Today, Iraq is building a promising strategic partnership with all neighboring countries without any reservations or favoring any party,” said Iraqi Speaker of Parliament Mohamed al Halbousi. Delegations from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait attended the summit.
June 12, 2019: Saudi officials blamed Iran for a Houthi attack on Abha Airport. The kingdom “will take urgent and timely measures to deter these Iranian-backed terrorist Houthi militias,” said the Saudi Foreign Ministry. The United States and regional governments condemned the attack. Tehran denied any involvement.
July 31, 2019: Foreign Minister Zarif announced that Iran was prepared for bilateral talks with Saudi Arabia. “If Saudi Arabia is ready for dialogue, we are always ready for dialogue with our neighbors,” said Zarif, “We have never closed the door to dialogue with our neighbors and we will never close the door to dialogue with our neighbors.”
September 14, 2019: Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for twin attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais. But Washington and Riyadh blamed Tehran. Iran reportedly launched 18 drones and seven cruise missiles from its Ahvaz Air Base in southwest Iran, about 400 miles north of the Saudi facilities. Four out of the seven missiles reached the Khurais facility. The attacks temporarily disrupted production of 1.2 million barrels per Khurais and 4.5 million barrels per day at Abqaiq, about half of Saudi Arabia’s total crude oil output.
October 1, 2019: Saudi Arabia asked Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to mediate a meeting between representatives from the kingdom and Iran. “The Saudis have conditions before the negotiations process starts and the same with Iranians. We have liaised these conditions to each side. It is not an easy task to get together two opposite sides in terms of their ideology, sect and their alliances in the region,” said Abbas al Hasnawi, an official from the Iraqi prime minister’s office. “The Saudis have given the green light in this matter, and Mr. Abdul Mahdi is working on it,” added al Hasnawi.
February 16, 2020: Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that Iran must change its behavior for talks to take place. “Until we can talk about the real sources of that instability, talk is going to be unproductive,” he told the Munich Security Conference.
June 29, 2020: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal urged the international community to extend the arms embargo on Iran. “We both see Iran as a grave danger not only to regional stability, but international stability,” he said. “We believe that Iran is the chief sponsor of terrorism and that the international community has to be more firm in dealing with the Iranians and their proxies.”
September 23, 2020: King Salman condemned Iran for spreading “chaos, extremism and sectarianism” across the Middle East and urged a “comprehensive” worldwide solution to prevent it from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. He blamed Iran and its proxies, notably the Houthis in Yemen, for launching more than 300 ballistic missiles and more than 400 armed drones at the kingdom. Tehran was responsible for the attack on key oil facilities that temporarily cut Saudi production in half in September 2019, he charged.
November 17, 2020: Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir warned that Riyadh could pursue a nuclear weapon if Iran obtains one. “It’s definitely an option,” said al Jubeir, “Saudi Arabia has made it very clear that it will do everything it can to protect its people and to protect its territories.”
April 9, 2021: Iran and Saudi Arabia held direct talks five years after severing diplomatic relations. The talks in Baghdad were mediated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi. The Iranian delegation was led by Saeed Iravani, deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. The Saudi delegation was led by Khalid al Humaidan, the chief of intelligence. The discussion focused primarily on Yemen, where Riyadh and Tehran have backed opposing sides since the civil war erupted in 2014. The delegations also reportedly discussed the political and financial crisis in Lebanon, where Iran and Saudi Arabia back opposing political blocs. Neither country acknowledged the dialogue.
August 28, 2021: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met his Saudi counterpart Faisal al Saud on the sidelines of the Baghdad summit to discuss resuming bilateral talks. The regional conference included the presidents, kings or foreign ministers from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates; French President Emmanuel Macron also participated. The goal was to ease regional tensions, particularly between Iran and the Arab nations.
September 22, 2021: In his address to the United Nations, King Salman expressed hope that talks with Iran will yield a “tangible outcome to build trust.” He envisioned a relationship based on respect for sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and “cessation from all types of support for terrorist groups and sectarian militias.”
The monarch also highlighted Riyadh’s “grave concern” over Tehran's advancement of its nuclear program. “The Kingdom supports the international efforts aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons,” he said.
April 25, 2022: Iran's Foreign Ministry confirmed that Iran and Saudi Arabia held their fifth round of talks in Baghdad on April 21. “The talks were progressive and positive,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. On the same day, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said that the two countries agreed on a 10-point memorandum of understanding. He did not provide specifics but said that officials “discussed the continuation of the ceasefire in Yemen” and that they agreed to hold another round of talks at the “diplomatic level.”
November 9, 2022: Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib warned Saudi Arabia against interfering in Iran’s internal affairs. Iranian officials had blamed Riyadh for inciting anti-government protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, on September 16. “In the case of Saudi Arabia, I say that our fate and that of other countries in the region are tied together due to our neighborhood. From Iran's point of view, any instability in the countries of the region is contagious, and any instability in Iran can be contagious to the countries of the region,” Khatib said. The ”glass palaces will collapse” if Iran reciprocates, he added.
December 2022: Iranian officials had refused to meet with Saudi diplomats amid anti-government government protests in Iran, according to Iraqi officials. They noted that Tehran blamed Riyadh for the unrest. “The Iranian-Saudi negotiations have stalled, and this will have a negative impact on the region,” said Amer al Fayez, an Iraqi lawmaker. On December 20, Esmail Ghaani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, called Saudi Arabia a “puppet government” of the United States and a “scum and not worthy of being an enemy.”
March 10, 2023: Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore diplomatic ties seven years after severing relations. The regional rivals committed to reopening embassies in Tehran and Riyadh by May 2023. The deal, brokered by China, also included the implementation of a security cooperation agreement signed in 2001 and a 1998 pact to enhance cooperation on trade, investment, technology, and culture. The Islamic Republic and the Gulf kingdom affirmed their respect for the “sovereignty of states” and “non-interference in internal affairs.”
April 4, 2023: President Raisi had accepted a Saudi invitation to visit the kingdom, according to Iranian first vice president Mohammed Mokhber.
April 6, 2023: The Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers met in Beijing, facilitated again by China. Their joint statement included the following points:
- Expand the “scope of co-operation, and contribute to achieving security, stability and prosperity in the region”
- Reopen open embassies in Riyadh and Tehran and general consulates in Jeddah and Mashhad
- Resume technical coordination to resume flights and facilitate the issuing of visas
- Affirm “readiness to do everything possible to overcome any obstacles facing the promotion of co-operation”
May 11, 2023: Finance Minister Ehsan Khandouzi became Iran’s first minister to visit Saudi Arabia since the announcement on rapprochement. He landed in Jeddah with an economic delegation and was slated to meet with Saudi officials and with the Islamic Development Bank.
Photo credits: Map of the Gulf via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]; Kaaba by 128flashfire at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons