April 08, 2023
Faisal bin Farhan and Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Beijing for talks after Chinese-brokered agreement
Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (left) and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud (right), with China’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, in Beijing. Photograph: Ho Str/Saudi Press Agency/AFP/Getty Images
By Amy Hawkins | The Guardian
BEIJING/RIYADH – The Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers have met for the first time in seven years, weeks after the two countries came to an agreement, brokered by Chinese officials, to restore diplomatic relations.
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and Iran’s Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met in Beijing to discuss the reopening of embassies, the appointment of ambassadors and a planned visit to Saudi Arabia by Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s president. They also discussed resuming flights between the two countries and issuing travel visas for each others’ citizens.
The regional rivals cut ties in 2016 after thousands of demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, protesting about the execution in Saudi Arabia of the prominent Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Riyadh and Tehran have vied for dominance in the Middle East and been on opposing sides of various regional conflicts, including civil wars in Yemen and Syria.
But on 10 March the two countries issued a surprise joint statement, co-signed with China, to restore diplomatic relations. The announcement came after days of negotiations in Beijing and both Saudi Arabia and Iran thanked China for its role in sponsoring the talks.
The deal was seen as a diplomatic coup for Xi Jinping, China’s leader, as he tries to position himself as a global statesman and peacemaker, particularly with regards to the conflict in Ukraine.
The US tried to downplay any suggestion that the Beijing-brokered agreement represented a blow to Washington’s influence in the Middle East. But it has also been sidelined in subsequent regional negotiations, such as Russian-mediated talks between Saudi Arabia and Syria.
William Burns, the director of the CIA, was in Saudi Arabia this week, where he reportedly expressed his frustration that Riyadh was reopening dialogue with countries – Iran and Syria – subject to US sanctions.
Xi has proposed hosting a summit for Gulf Arab leaders and Iranian officials later this year.
Agencies contributed to this report.