Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has extended an invitation to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to visit the kingdom, marking a significant step in the restoration of ties between the two nations after years of hostility. The invitation comes just over a week after the two countries announced they were restoring diplomatic relations, seven years after they were severed in the wake of the torching of the Saudi embassy in Iran.
Why does Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi want to restore ties with Saudi Arabia?
Mohammad Jamshidi, the Iranian president’s deputy chief of staff for political affairs, confirmed the invitation via Twitter, saying that “Raisi welcomed the invitation”. The move is expected to see Iran and Saudi Arabia reopen their embassies and missions within two months and implement security and economic cooperation deals signed more than 20 years ago.
The detente between Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, and Iran, which is strongly at odds with Western governments over its nuclear activities, has the potential to reshape relations across a region characterized by turbulence for decades. The two nations have long supported rival sides in several conflict zones, including Yemen, where the Houthi rebels are backed by Tehran, and Riyadh leads a military coalition supporting the government. They also vie for influence in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.
The deal, brokered by China, was announced after four days of previously undisclosed talks in Beijing between top security officials from the two rival Middle Eastern powers. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told reporters on Sunday that the two countries had agreed to hold a meeting between their top diplomats, with three locations suggested for the talks.
The shift in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran could have significant implications for the Middle East, a region known for its geopolitical volatility. Other Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, have already restored diplomatic ties with Tehran. Iran has also said it would welcome restoring ties with Bahrain, a close Saudi ally that followed Riyadh in severing diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016.
Image Credit: Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg