China’s emergence as Saudi-Iran broker signals multipolar diplomacy in Middle East

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The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran met in Beijing on Thursday for the first formal gathering of their top diplomats in more than seven years, after China brokered a deal to restore relations between the top regional powers.

Iran’s Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud discussed the resumption of bilateral relations following a landmark agreement mediated by China last month. They agreed to take steps towards reopening embassies and consulates in their mutual countries, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on its official Telegram channel.

The two countries have also supported opposite sides of a civil war in Yemen, which has been described by the United Nations as one the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Saudi Arabia has, however, been engaged in direct talks with the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, and an unofficial ceasefire appears to be holding.

The development was broadly seen as a diplomatic victory for China in a Gulf region that has long been considered part of the US’ domain of influence. China’s top diplomat Wang Yi called the agreement a “victory for dialogue and a victory for peace,” and framed it as part of China’s “constructive role in facilitating the proper settlement of hot-spot issues around the world,” according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry at the time.

On Thursday, Prince Faisal and Mr. Amir-Abdollahian invited each other to visit their respective capitals for additional meetings, according to a joint statement. They also agreed that technical teams from both countries would discuss further steps, including the resumption of flights, visits by official delegations and the granting of visas to each other’s citizens.

The meeting was the highest-level bilateral gathering of officials from Iran and Saudi Arabia since they cut ties seven years ago, and comes after they agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties following talks in Beijing in March. At the time, Riyadh and Tehran said they planned to reopen their embassies within two months.

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