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Iran and Saudi Arabia Resume Diplomatic Relations After A 7-Year Rift

Iran and Saudi Arabia announced from the Chinese capital, Beijing, that they have agreed to resume dialogue and diplomatic relations and to reopen their respective embassies within two months.

On March 10th, the Saudi Press Agency and Islamic Republic News Agency published a joint statement between Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China announcing the historic and structural agreement.

The statement declared that Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed to resume diplomatic relations and confirmed to respect the sovereignty of states and non-interference in their internal affairs.

The talks between the two countries took place from 6-10 March 2023 in Beijing. The dialogue aimed to "resolve disputes through dialogue and diplomacy within the framework of the fraternal ties that bind them, and their commitment to the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and international treaties and customs."

Furthermore, the foreign ministers of both countries will meet to activate the decisions and arrange for the exchange of ambassadors and discuss ways to enhance their relations, according the same statement.

They also agreed to activate the Security Cooperation Agreement between them, signed on 17/4/2001, and the General Agreement for Cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, investment, technology, science, culture, sports, and youth, signed on 27/5/1998, the statement continued.

Moreover, the two sides expressed their appreciation and gratitude in the statement to the Republic of Iraq and the Sultanate of Oman for hosting their dialogue rounds during the years 2021-2022. Finally, the three countries reaffirmed their commitment to making every effort to enhance regional and international peace and security.

This agreement come after a diplomatic rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran for 7 years. On January 2, 2016, the dispute between the two countries reached its peak following the execution of 47 people in Riyadh, including the prominent Saudi Shiite leader sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, on charges including "terrorism."

The primary Sunni power in the region Saudi Arabia faced strong criticism and condemnation from Iran, the main Shia power in the world, for taking this step. The scientific and intellectual weight of Nimr al-Nimr was particularly significant among Shia Muslims, especially those who subscribe to the ideas of the Iranian Islamic Revolution.

In this situation, Iranian protesters forcibly entered and stormed the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran in order to express their opposition to the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. After the incident, Iran's foreign ministry issued a statement calling for calm and urging protesters to respect the diplomatic premises, according to France24.

In addition, Tehran's police chief, General Hossein Sajedinia, told Tasnim News Agency that “some rogue individuals staged a rally in front of the Saudi embassy and chanted anti-Saudi slogans. Following the rally, some of them threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the Saudi embassy that caused fire in part of the embassy building,”

Sajedinia added during the “illegal” acts a number of police forces were injured and some of the protesters, who had entered the building, were arrested.

Additionally, Iranian officials threatened Saudi Arabia with consequences for their actions. "The Saudi government is certainly going to pay dearly for following such policies" said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari, and claimed that the outcome of such “irresponsible and non-productive policies will affect the schemers,” according to Islamic Republic News Agency.

Ansari also accused Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorist groups in the region, citing its involvement in the Syrian conflict, while also using the death penalty and suppressing dissenters within their own country.

“While extremist and Takfiri terrorists were threatening the regional and global security and even the very existence of some regional governments, the execution of a man like Sheikh al-Nimr who had no tool but preaching his ideas to promote his political and religious objectives, proves nothing but the depth of irrationality and irresponsibility of the Saudi officials,” Ansari claimed.

As for supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, he strongly condemned the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and assumed it will not pass without affecting the Saudi regime, where he also referred to "similar crimes" committed by Saudi in Yemen and Bahrain.

On January 2, 2016, one day after the events, Saudi Arabia announced the severing of diplomatic relations with Iran during a press conference by then Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. "In the beginning, the conference presented in detail the "developments of the aggressive events at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and general consulate in Mashhad."

The conference claimed that on the morning of Saturday, January 2, 2016, the embassy in Tehran received several phone calls threatening to kill embassy employees. The Chargé d'affaires immediately contacted the Iranian Foreign Ministry to inform them and to request protection for the embassy, but did not get any response.

Afterwards, the protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the Consulate General in Mashhad, while "Iranian authorities made no attempt to stop these illegal actions or apprehend those responsible."

The Saudi authorities made several decisions based on these events, one of which was the “severing of diplomatic relations with Iran”, and they requested all members of the Iranian diplomatic mission (including embassy and consular staff) to leave within 48 hours.

It is worth noting that the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and the subsequent security events sparked the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, this was not the only event in a long series of accumulated clashes.

During the “Arab Spring” uprisings in 2011, Iran and Saudi Arabia had conflicting views towards each country involved in the revolution. In the case of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia accused Iran of encouraging protests against the country's ruling family and sent 1,000 Saudi soldiers to Bahrain to protect government facilities.

On the other hand, Iran provided support to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria to ensure his survival through various methods, while Saudi Arabia backed the rebel groups against the government, at least until 2014 when a US-led coalition was formed to fight ISIS.

In 2015, when the Yemeni Civil War began, Saudi Arabia backed the internationally recognized government and carried out attacks on the strongholds of Houthi rebels who were believed to be supported by Tehran.

On January 7, 2016, Iran claimed that Saudi Arabia, who has been leading the Arab coalition in Yemen since 2014, bombed its embassy in Yemen. The coalition denied these accusations and called them "falsehoods", Anadolu Agency reported.

These were the most significant events leading to Saudi Arabia's decision to cut ties with Iran in 2016, in addition to several other incidents.

After the diplomatic break, the relations between the two of the most powerful countries in the Middle east deteriorated significantly. The impact of this rift was noticeable in countries where Iran and Saudi Arabia hold influence or have allies, such as Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria.

Thus, the past years have witnessed a fierce conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia on various levels. However, as it is known, political circumstances change, and with them positions and interests change. It seems that the equations of the Middle East have already changed, in addition to the new Chinese diplomatic role in the region.

Significant to mention, China visited Saudi Arabia at the end of last year and received a warm reception, preceded by a very lukewarm reception for US President Joe Biden. During the three-day visit, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Saudi King Salman signed “a series of strategic deals, including one involving Chinese tech giant Huawei, as part of a visit expected to bolster political and economic ties,” Al Jazeera reported.

In addition, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visited China for three days in February, during which they signed "20 cooperation documents and memoranda of understanding between the Islamic Republic of Iran and China" in the fields of crisis management, tourism, communication and information technology, environment, international trade, intellectual property, agriculture, export, healthcare, media, sports, and cultural heritage, according to the official website of the President of Iran.

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