Iran and Saudi Arabia announced that the two longtime rivals and enemies are restoring diplomatic relations following years of tensions, which involved each side charging the other with state-sponsored terrorism. Crucially, China helped see the deal through and hosted meetings of the two sides in Beijing.
NBC describes that "The deal, which will see the two countries reopen embassies in each other’s capitals, was sealed during a meeting in China — a boost to Beijing’s efforts to rival the United States as a broker on the global stage." Indeed this is the message China is quick to emphasize:
SAUDI ARABIA, IRAN TALK IN BEIJING IS VICTORY OF PEACE: WANG YI
A joint communique confirming the restoration of relations from was issued by Riyadh, Tehran, and Beijing - and was first published in state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA). The statement emphasizes "a shared desire to resolve the disagreements between them through dialogue and diplomacy, and in light of their brotherly ties."
It spells out that the next step is for foreign ministers from both countries to "meet to implement this, arrange for the return of their ambassadors, and discuss means of enhancing bilateral relations."
Representing the Iranian side in the Beijing talks was Ali Shamkhani, a close adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni. On the other side was Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, with the two engaging in intense negotiations.
Not only has the regional rivalry, which intensified most during the decade of the proxy war in Syria which began in 2011, been set amid a centuries-long divide over correct interpretation of Islam (Shia Iran vs. Sunni Saudi Arabia), but it has also spilled over in places like Yemen, scene of another grinding proxy war which pit Shia rebels against a Saudi-backed government.
The Saudis and Iranians also clash in supporting rival political factions inside Lebanon, with Tehran being the Shia paramilitary group Hezbollah's biggest backer. For these reasons, accusations of supporting terrorism have been frequently hurled back-and-forth over the years. Iranian state media, for example, has long charged the Saudis with being a prime covert backer of the Islamic State (ISIS) in their drive to overthrow President Assad in Syria.
Incredible that China was able to broker resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran. I wrote about the need for a Grand Bargain over ten years ago. Hope they move towards it. pic.twitter.com/QlytyUmrXv— Vijay Prashad (@vijayprashad) March 10, 2023
The detente is also a surprise given the warming relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, based on attempts to bring Riyadh into the Abraham Accords. Very likely, this new agreement which was helped along by China will delay any possibility of the Saudis and Israelis establishing official relations on an accelerated timeline.
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Below is the official joint communique:
Riyadh, March 10, 2023, SPA -- In response to the noble initiative of His Excellency President Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, of China’s support for developing good neighborly relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran;
And based on the agreement between His Excellency President Xi Jinping and the leaderships in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, whereby the People’s Republic of China would host and sponsor talks between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran;
Proceeding from their shared desire to resolve the disagreements between them through dialogue and diplomacy, and in light of their brotherly ties;
Adhering to the principles and objectives of Charters of the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and International conventions and norms;
The delegations from the two countries held talks during the period 6-10 March 2023 in Beijing - the delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia headed by His Excellency Dr. Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, Minister of State, Member of the Council of Ministers, and National Security Advisor, and the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran headed by His Excellency Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Saudi and Iranian sides expressed their appreciation and gratitude to the Republic of Iraq and the Sultanate of Oman for hosting rounds of dialogue that took place between both sides during the years 2021-2022. The two sides also expressed their appreciation and gratitude to the leadership and government of the People’s Republic of China for hosting and sponsoring the talks, and the efforts it placed towards its success.
The three countries announce that an agreement has been reached between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, that includes an agreement to resume diplomatic relations between them and re-open their embassies and missions within a period not exceeding two months, and the agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs of states. They also agreed that the ministers of foreign affairs of both countries shall meet to implement this, arrange for the return of their ambassadors, and discuss means of enhancing bilateral relations. They also agreed to implement the Security Cooperation Agreement between them, which was signed on 22/1/1422 (H), corresponding to 17/4/2001, and the General Agreement for Cooperation in the Fields of Economy, Trade, Investment, Technology, Science, Culture, Sports, and Youth, which was signed on 2/2/1419 (H), corresponding to 27/5/1998.
The three countries expressed their keenness to exert all efforts towards enhancing regional and international peace and security.
Issued in Beijing on 10 March 2023.
For the Islamic Republic of Iran
For the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban
Minister of State, Member of the Council of Ministers, and National Security Advisor
For the People’s Republic of China
Member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Director of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee