Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on Friday to re-establish relations after seven years of hostility which had threatened stability and security in the Gulf and helped fuel conflicts in the Middle East from Yemen to Syria.
The deal was announced after four days of previously undisclosed talks in Beijing between top security officials from the two rival Middle East powers.
Tehran and Riyadh agreed “to resume diplomatic relations between them and re-open their embassies and missions within a period not exceeding two months”, according to a statement issued by Iran, Saudi Arabia and China.
“The agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs.”
Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for missile and drone attacks on the kingdoms oil facilities in 2019 as well as attacks on tankers in Gulf waters. Iran denied the charges.
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement has often carried out cross-border missile and drone attacks into Saudi Arabia, which has led a coalition fighting the Houthis, and in 2022 extended the strikes to the United Arab Emirates.
In Friday’s agreement, Saudi Arabia and Iran also agreed to activate a security cooperation agreement signed in 2001, as well as another earlier accord on trade, economy and investment.
Both countries thanked China, as well as Iraq and Oman for hosting earlier talks in 2021 and 2022.
The agreement was signed by Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, and Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser Musaed bin Mohammed Al-Aiban.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A White House national security spokesperson said the United States was aware of reports of the agreement and welcomed any efforts to help end war in Yemen and de-escalate tensions in the Middle East.
Pakistan said it “warmly welcomes” the normalisation of diplomatic relations, according to a press release issued by the Foreign Office (FO).
“Pakistan firmly believes that this important diplomatic breakthrough will contribute to peace and stability in the region and beyond,” it added.
The FO commended China’s role in “coordinating this historic agreement which reflects the power of constructive engagement and meaningful dialogue”.
It also lauded Saudi Arabia and Iran’s “sagacious leadership … for this very positive development”.
“With a history of consistently supporting and coordinating efforts for bridging gaps between the two brotherly countries, Pakistan will continue to play a constructive role in the Middle East and the region. We hope this positive step would define a template for regional cooperation and harmony,” the FO said.
‘Moving in right direction’
The two leading Shia and Sunni powers in the Middle East have been at odds for years, and backed opposite sides in proxy wars from Yemen to Syria and elsewhere.
Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran in 2016 after its embassy in Tehran was stormed during a dispute between the two countries over Riyadh’s execution of a Shia cleric.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said that normalising relations offered great prospects for both countries and for the Middle East, and hinted at further steps.
“The neighbourhood policy, as the key axis of the Iranian governments foreign policy, is strongly moving in the right direction and the diplomatic apparatus is actively behind the preparation of more regional steps,” Amirabdollahian tweeted.
A senior Iranian security official said Friday’s agreement had been endorsed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“That is why Shamkhani travelled to China as the supreme leaders representative,” the official told Reuters. “The establishment wanted to show that the top authority in Iran backed this decision.”