On March 10, 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.” The move marked a significant de-escalation in tensions. For years, the two countries have clashed over regional conflicts, particularly Syria and Yemen.
China hosted Iranian and Saudi delegations in Beijing between March 6 and March 10. “Both sides have displayed sincerity,” said Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The Iranian side was led by Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, which develops national security policy. “Clearing misunderstandings and looking towards the future in Tehran-Riyadh relations will definitely lead to the development of regional stability and security,” he said. Saudi National Security Advisor Musaad bin Mohammed al Aiban represented Riyadh.
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al Saud said that the agreement was “evidence of our common desire to solve [issues] through talks and dialogue.” But it did not mean that the two countries had “reached a resolution to all outstanding differences.”
China’s ability to broker the deal reflected its growing influence in the region. For years, China has been a top oil importer for both Iran and Saudi Arabia. It sought stability in the Persian Gulf for the safe passage of oil and goods. Under President Xi Jinping, China has bolstered ties to the region. He visited Saudi Arabia in December 2022 for the China-Arab States Summit, which included 14 Arab leaders. And he hosted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in February 2023 for a state visit just weeks before Tehran and Riyadh restored relations.
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Iran and Saudi Arabia looked to build on pacts signed more than two decades ago. The April 2001 security agreement included commitments to fight drug trafficking, crime, terrorism, and money laundering. The May 1998 agreement focused on broader cooperation, including in the economic, commercial, scientific, communications, environmental, and sports sectors. The announcement of the deal generated optimism for Iran’s economy. The rial strengthened in value by more than 10 percent—to 450,000 for one U.S. dollar—on March 11.
Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, and Saudi Arabia, which is mainly Sunni, have been regional rivals since Iran’s 1979 revolution, which ended 2,500 years of dynastic rule. The Saudi monarchy, which based its legitimacy on Islam, felt threatened by the Islamic Republic, which condemned monarchies as an illegitimate form of government.
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#Iran and #SaudiArabia agree to resume bilateral relations:— nournewsen (@nournewsen) March 10, 2023
Joint statement was issued in #China signed by Ali Shamkhani, Mosaed bin Mohammed Al-Aiban and Wang Yi. pic.twitter.com/3PEgKfTEx3
In the past decade, political tensions have increased over regional issues. In Syria, Tehran supported President Bashar al Assad, while Riyadh reportedly funneled money to Syrian opposition groups. In Yemen, Iran has armed and aided the Houthis, while the Saudi military launched an air war in 2015 to prevent a complete takeover by Houthi rebels. The two countries severed diplomatic relations in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed Nimr al Nimr, a popular local Shiite cleric, and Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran in retaliation.
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 late 2022, Iran accused Saudi Arabia of supporting nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in detention. The following is the statement on the resumption of ties as well as international reactions.
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In response to the noble initiative of His Excellency President Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, of China’s support for developing good neighborly relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran;
And based on the agreement between His Excellency President Xi Jinping and the leaderships in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, whereby the People’s Republic of China would host and sponsor talks between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran;
Proceeding from their shared desire to resolve the disagreements between them through dialogue and diplomacy, and in light of their brotherly ties;
Adhering to the principles and objectives of Charters of the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and International conventions and norms;
The delegations from the two countries held talks during the period 6-10 March 2023 in Beijing - the delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia headed by His Excellency Dr. Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, Minister of State, Member of the Council of Ministers, and National Security Advisor, and the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran headed by His Excellency Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Saudi and Iranian sides expressed their appreciation and gratitude to the Republic of Iraq and the Sultanate of Oman for hosting rounds of dialogue that took place between both sides during the years 2021-2022. The two sides also expressed their appreciation and gratitude to the leadership and government of the People’s Republic of China for hosting and sponsoring the talks, and the efforts it placed towards its success.
The three countries announce that an agreement has been reached between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, that includes an agreement to resume diplomatic relations between them and re-open their embassies and missions within a period not exceeding two months, and the agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs of states. They also agreed that the ministers of foreign affairs of both countries shall meet to implement this, arrange for the return of their ambassadors, and discuss means of enhancing bilateral relations. They also agreed to implement the Security Cooperation Agreement between them, which was signed on 22/1/1422 (H), corresponding to 17/4/2001, and the General Agreement for Cooperation in the Fields of Economy, Trade, Investment, Technology, Science, Culture, Sports, and Youth, which was signed on 2/2/1419 (H), corresponding to 27/5/1998.
The three countries expressed their keenness to exert all efforts towards enhancing regional and international peace and security.
Issued in Beijing on 10 March 2023.
For the Islamic Republic of Iran
For the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban
Minister of State, Member of the Council of Ministers, and National Security Advisor
For the People’s Republic of China
Member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Director of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee
Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani
In remarks published by Tasnim News on March 10, 2023: “Ayatollah Raisi's visit to China in February and the conversation between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the President of our country provided the platform for the formation of new and very serious negotiations between the delegations of Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“The talks between the two countries were frank, transparent, comprehensive and constructive. Clearing misunderstandings and looking towards the future in Tehran-Riyadh relations will definitely lead to the development of regional stability and security and increase cooperation between the countries of the Persian Gulf and the Islamic world to manage the existing challenges.
“I appreciate the constructive role of the People's Republic of China in supporting the development of relations between countries, which is necessary for solving challenges and increasing peace and stability and promoting international cooperation.”
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian
In a tweet on March 10, 2023: “The return of normal relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia provides great capacities to the two countries, the region and the Islamic world. The neighborhood policy, as the key axis of the thirteenth government's foreign policy, is strongly moving in the right direction, and the diplomatic apparatus is actively behind the preparation of more regional steps.”
In a tweet on March 10, 2023: “Today, in phone calls, I received the congratulations of the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar and the Foreign Ministers of Iraq and Oman regarding the agreement between Tehran and Riyadh to return the relations between the two countries to a normal state and to open embassies in Tehran and Riyadh. The neighborhood policy of Dr. Raisi's government is moving in the right direction.”
In a statement on March 11, 2023: “Iran’s foreign policy took another important step forward during the tenure of President Ebrahim Raisi, in line with the doctrine of balanced foreign policy, dynamic diplomacy and smart interaction and with the aim of materializing the policy of neighborliness and completing the previous effective steps. Thanks to intensive and pragmatic negotiations, the Beijing Agreement was made in order to put back relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia on their normal track.
“With this momentum, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran showed that it is firmly resolved to realize the interests of the Iranian people and Muslim, friendly and neighboring nations and to use regional possibilities to achieve and strengthen inclusive peace and stability and to realize the collective interests of regional governments and nations.
“This also proved that Iran has envisioned effective steps to move forward.
“The Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran is confident of the positive role and implications of this agreement in realizing the mutual interests of the two nations of Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as other regional nations.
“Hence, the Foreign Ministry believes it is necessary to appreciate China’s initiative and hosting of the talks and its role in the conclusion of the agreement as well as the effective role of friendly and neighboring governments of Iraq and Oman in this regard.”
Presidential Deputy Chief of Staff for Political Affairs Mohammad Jamshidi
In a tweet on March 10, 2023: “Again, Pres. Raisi's policies succeed. During talks with Pres. Xi in Beijing, constructive ideas for the region were discussed & now they bear fruit. Good neighborly & brotherly policies with Eurasian integration create economic & security benefits free from foreign intervention.”
Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi (military advisor to the supreme leader)
In remarks on March 12, 2023: “What we will witness in the future in the region will be different from what has happened so far, and it is important to look at the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia with rationality.”
“It is in the interest of the region and the parties to the agreement to consider honesty and rationality in the long term, and in my opinion, this agreement is in the interest of the two countries and the West Asian region and is not against any of the countries in the region. Of course, it is natural for arrogance to be upset about this issue and disrupt the work.”
“The era of the decline of American and Zionist power has come. Looking to the neighbors and looking to the east will increase the geopolitical weight of Iran and change the situation of the people from the current situation.”
“Iran should look at this situation of tension between America and Europe in Ukraine and Taiwan tension as an opportunity and move with a specific strategy based on common interests with China and Russia and the common threats of the United States against the three countries.”
“It should be said about the recent agreement that this agreement was an earthquake in the political field and the end of American hegemony in the region, and with this agreement, the post- American era in the Persian Gulf region has begun.”
“The Chinese have decided to become the world's first economy by 2030, and this agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, mediated by China, was China's second biggest blow to America. Saudi Arabia is China's largest supplier of oil, and on the other hand, China's strategic agreement with Iran to invest in the development of our infrastructure was a great agreement.”
“China has expanded its geo-economic area from the China Sea to the Persian Gulf with a specific strategy. It seems that China and Russia will continue to help Saudi Arabia become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This link can act as a barrier against NATO and the military power of the West in the future.”
Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al Saud
In remarks published March 12, 2023: “Our arrival at this agreement, which will lead to the resumption of political relations, does not mean that we have reached a resolution to all outstanding differences between our two countries, but rather is evidence of our common desire to solve them through talks and dialogue with peaceful means and diplomatic tools.”
“We, in the kingdom, hope to open a new page with Iran and enhance the prospects for co-operation in a way that reflects positively on the consolidation of security and stability, and the advancement of development and prosperity, not only in our two countries but in the region as a whole.”
“We are preparing to resume diplomatic relations between our two countries during the next two months, and it is natural in the future to exchange visits.”
“Iran is a neighboring country and its stability and development [are] in the interest of the region as a whole and we, in Saudi Arabia, we wish only the good.”
“We repeat our call to empty the Gulf region of arms and weapons of mass destruction.”
“We call on Iran to commit to implementing its nuclear obligations and intensifying its co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and we will continue to work with allies and friends to ensure this.”
In a tweet on March 10, 2023: “The resumption of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom and Iran stems from the Kingdom's vision based on preferring political solutions and dialogue, and its keenness to perpetuate this in the region. The countries of the region have one destiny and common denominators that make it necessary for us to join together to build a model of prosperity and stability for our peoples to enjoy.”
Finance Minister Mohammed al Jadaan
In remarks on March 14, 2023: “There are a lot of opportunities for Saudi investments in Iran. We don't see impediments as long as the terms of any agreement would be respected.”
“To focus on your economic development and focus on providing for the people in your country, you need stability, and [Iran needs] both.”
Foreign Minister Wang Yi
In remarks on March 10, 2023: “Both sides have displayed sincerity… China fully supports this agreement.”
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin
In remarks on March 14, 2023: “In response to the noble initiative of President Xi Jinping of China’s support for developing good neighborly relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the delegations from the two countries recently held talks in Beijing, which yielded important outcomes. An agreement was reached and a joint tripartite statement was released. Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to resume diplomatic relations. The three countries expressed their keenness to exert all efforts towards enhancing regional and international peace and security. As noted by Wang Yi, Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, it is a victory for dialogue and a victory for peace. The international acclaim fully demonstrates that lasting peace, stability and security is the shared aspiration of regional countries and that upholding strategic independence and seeking solidarity and cooperation has strong backing from people worldwide.
“The talks in Beijing have turned a new page in Saudi Arabia-Iran relations, paved the way for realizing peace and stability in the Middle East and set a fine example for resolving problems and disagreements between countries through dialogue and consultation. No matter how complex the issues are or how thorny the challenges may be, equal-footed dialogue on the basis of mutual respect will lead to a mutually acceptable solution. The Middle East belongs to the people of the region. Its future must be determined by the people of Middle East countries. Countries in the region have China’s support to carry forward the spirit of independence, strengthen solidarity and coordination, and join hands to make the Middle East more peaceful, stable and prosperous.
“The Beijing dialogue is a robust and successful effort to put the Global Security Initiative (GSI) into practice. Tactics like “bolster one and bash the other” or “divide and rule” or “bloc confrontation” have never been proven to work on security issues. The viable approach to realize lasting peace and security in the region and beyond is to uphold the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, pursue the long-term objective of building a security community, and follow a new path to security featuring dialogue over confrontation, partnership over alliance and win-win over zero-sum.
“State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang noted that China will be a promoter of security and stability, partner for development and prosperity and supporter of the Middle East’s development through solidarity. China will continue to contribute its insights and proposals to realizing peace and tranquility in the Middle East and play its role as a responsible major country in this process. It is our hope that more and more countries will join us in implementing the GSI to realize enduring peace and universal security.”
The United States
Secretary of State Antony Blinken
In remarks on March 15, 2023: “With regard to the agreement reached between Saudi Arabia and Iran with China’s involvement, from our perspective, anything that can help reduce tensions, avoid conflict, and curb in any way dangerous or destabilizing actions by Iran is a good thing. And as you know, in this particular case, the Saudis and the Iranians have been talking for some time going back a couple of years, including in Baghdad and in Oman. And to the extent that China facilitated conclusion of this agreement to restore diplomatic relations, that’s a good thing. And I think it’s valuable that countries, where they can, take action, take responsibility for advancing security, for advancing peaceful relations. And if this agreement actually bears out, and particularly if Iran follows through on the commitments that it’s apparently made, again, that would be positive.”
National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby
In remarks on March 10, 2023: “Generally speaking, we welcome any efforts to help end the war in Yemen and de-escalate tensions in the Middle East region. De-escalation and diplomacy together with deterrence are key pillars of the policy President Biden outlined during his visit to the region last year.”
In remarks on March 10, 2023: “If this deal can be sustained — regardless of what the interest was or who sat down at the table — if it can be sustained, and the war in Yemen can end, and Saudi Arabia doesn't have to continually try to defend itself against attacks from the Houthis who are funded and supported by Iran, in the end we welcome that.”
“It really does remain to be seen whether the Iranians are going to honor their side of the deal.”
Iraqi Foreign Ministry
In a tweet on March 10, 2023: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomes the agreement reached between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, according to which a new page of diplomatic relations between the two countries begins.”
Foreign Minister Badr Albusaidi
In a tweet on March 10, 2023: We warmly welcome the resumption of diplomatic relations between #SaudiArabia and #Iran. This is a win-win for everyone and will benefit regional and global security. We hope in the longer term there’s also potential for increasing economic benefits for all.
U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric
In a statement on March 10, 2023: “The secretary-general has expressed his appreciation to the People's Republic of China for hosting these recent talks and for promoting dialogue between the two countries…Good neighborly relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are essential for the stability of the Gulf region.”
In remarks on March 10, 2023: “In Yemen, we have a situation that is fragile but continuing on a positive trend.”
“We hope that this agreement will have a positive impact on this situation and others.”
Photo Credit: Flag composite via Shutterstock; Shamkhani via IRNA