The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran are expected to meet in Beijing on Thursday to discuss the implementation of a landmark deal to restore diplomatic ties between the two regional rivals after years of hostility.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and Hossein Amir-Abdollahian held their first formal meeting since 2014, following a China-brokered agreement announced last month that ended a diplomatic rift that had fueled conflicts across the Middle East.
The two ministers agreed to reopen embassies and exchange ambassadors as soon as possible, as well as to activate previous cooperation agreements signed in 1998 and 2001 on trade, energy, security and cultural issues, according to a joint statement issued after the meeting.
They also expressed their commitment to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other and to refrain from interfering in each other’s internal affairs, the statement said.
The meeting was facilitated by the Chinese director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, Wang Yi, who praised the two countries for their “courage and wisdom” in overcoming their differences and seeking reconciliation.
Wang said China, as a friend of both countries and a responsible power in the region, would continue to support their dialogue and cooperation and play a constructive role in promoting peace and stability in the Middle East.
The Saudi-Iranian rapprochement marks a major shift in the regional dynamics after decades of animosity that had exacerbated sectarian tensions and fueled proxy wars in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.
The two countries severed diplomatic relations in 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed and set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran following the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric by Saudi authorities.
The relationship had deteriorated further after the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and the reimposition of sanctions that crippled Iran’s economy.
The assassination of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani by a US drone strike in Iraq in 2020 and the attack on Saudi oil facilities by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen in 2019 also raised fears of a direct confrontation between the two countries.
However, with the change of administration in Washington and the revival of diplomatic efforts to revive the nuclear deal, both Riyadh and Tehran signaled their willingness to ease tensions and explore dialogue.
The breakthrough came after months of secret talks between senior security officials from both sides, mediated by China, which has close economic ties with both countries and an interest in maintaining stability in the region.
The talks were reportedly held in Baghdad, Muscat and Beijing, culminating in a joint statement on March 10 that announced the restoration of diplomatic relations and hailed China’s positive role in facilitating communication.
The statement also called for a comprehensive political solution to end the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting against the Houthi rebels since 2015.
The meeting in Beijing is expected to pave the way for more high-level contacts between the two countries and create opportunities for cooperation on regional and international issues of common interest.