By Parisa Hafezi, Nayera Abdallah and Aziz El Yaakoubi
DUBAI/RIYADH (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on Friday to restore ties after years of hostilities that had threatened stability and security in the Gulf and helped fuel conflicts in the Middle East, from Yemen to Syria.
The deal, brokered by China, was announced after four days of previously undisclosed talks in Beijing between top security officials of the two rival Middle East powers.
Tehran and Riyadh have agreed to resume diplomatic ties and reopen embassies within two months, according to a statement released by Iran, Saudi Arabia and China. “The agreement includes their affirmation of respect for the sovereignty of states and non-interference in internal affairs,” she said.
Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran in 2016 after its embassy in Tehran was stormed during a dispute between the two countries over Riyadh’s execution of a Shia Muslim cleric.
The kingdom also blamed Iran for rocket and drone attacks on its oil facilities in 2019, as well as attacks on tankers in Gulf waters. Iran has denied the allegations.
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement has also carried out cross-border missile and drone strikes on Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition fighting the Houthis, and in 2022 expanded attacks on the UAE.
Friday’s deal, signed by Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, and Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser Musaed bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, agreed to reactivate a 2001 security cooperation agreement, as well as a another previous pact on trade, economy and investment.
Top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi described the deal as a victory for dialogue and peace, adding that Beijing will continue to play a constructive role in addressing difficult global issues.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Saudi Arabia kept the United States informed about the talks in Beijing, but Washington was not directly involved. He said Washington supported the process to promote an end to the war in Yemen.
“It’s not about China. We support any effort to reduce tensions in the region. We think it’s in our best interests, and it’s something we’ve been working on through our effective combination of deterrence and diplomacy,” Kirby said.
Longstanding strategic ties between Riyadh and Washington have been strained during President Joe Biden’s administration due to the kingdom’s human rights record, the war in Yemen, and more recently ties to Russia and oil production of OPEC+.
Conversely, Saudi Arabia’s growing ties with China were highlighted by President Xi Jinping’s high-profile visit three months ago. Friday’s announcement came the day Xi snagged a third term as China’s president amid a series of challenges.
‘MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION’
Long at odds, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two leading Shia and Sunni Muslim powers in the Middle East, respectively, have backed opposing sides in proxy wars from Yemen to Syria and elsewhere.
Analysts say both sides stand to gain from the de-escalation, as Iran seeks to undermine US efforts to isolate it in the region and Saudi Arabia seeks to focus on economic development.
The Gulf states, the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, have welcomed the restoration of Saudi-Iranian ties, as have Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.
“Further regional instability is not in the Saudi or Iranian interest at the moment,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a political scientist at the Baker Institute of Rice University in the United States.
“And that the Chinese have addressed this issue at a time when the US stance towards Iran is becoming more hawkish in itself sends a powerful signal.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said in a speech broadcast on state television that Riyadh “favors political solutions and dialogue”.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has hinted at more to come.
“The Neighborhood Policy, as a key axis of the Iranian government’s foreign policy, is moving strongly in the right direction and the diplomatic apparatus is actively behind the preparation of more regional steps,” Amirabdollahian wrote on Twitter.
A senior Iranian official said addressing tensions with Saudi Arabia had become a top priority for Tehran and would help resolve longstanding talks over Iran’s nuclear program.
“It will encourage the West to reach a nuclear deal with Iran,” the official told RockedBuzz via Reuters.
Saudi Arabia and its allies have long lobbied global powers to address their concerns about Iran’s missile and drone programs in their efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
Cinzia Bianco, a researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Riyadh was seeking security guarantees from the Iranians. free the Saudis from the war in Yemen that has become a quagmire,” she said Bianco.
“If these two (issues) are okay, I’m confident and positive about the deal.”
Prince Faisal said progress was made towards ending the conflict in Yemen in January, and the Houthis in Yemen and Iran’s Hezbollah allies in Lebanon welcomed the deal on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington and the Dubai editorial team; Screenplay by Dominic Evans and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jason Neely, Jon Boyle, Nick Macfie, Hugh Lawson and Daniel Wallis)