TEHRAN: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has welcomed an invitation from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to visit the kingdom following a reconciliation deal between the two countries, an Iranian official said on Sunday.

“In a letter to President Raisi... the King of Saudi Arabia welcomed the deal between the two brotherly countries (and) invited him to Riyadh,” tweeted Mohammad Jamshidi, the Iranian president’s deputy chief of staff for political affairs, adding that “Raisi welcomed the invitation”.

The two regional heavyweights announced on March 10 a Chinese-brokered deal to restore ties seven years after they were severed.

Riyadh cut relations after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in 2016 following the Saudi execution of revered Shia cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr — just one in a series of flashpoints between the two longstanding regional rivals.

The deal is expected to see Iran and Saudi Arabia reopen their embassies and missions within two months and implement security and economic cooperation deals signed more than 20 years ago.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told a news conference on Sunday that the two countries had agreed to hold a meeting between their top diplomats.

He added that three locations for the talks had been suggested, without specifying which.

Amir-Abdollahian also said Tehran was ready for the mutual reopening of embassies.

He signalled Iran was also hoping for steps towards normalising ties with Bahrain, a close Saudi ally.

Manama had followed Riyadh in severing diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016. “An agreement was reached two months ago for Iranian and Bahraini technical delegations to visit the embassies of the two countries. We hope that some obstacles between Iran and Bahrain will be removed and we will take basic steps to reopen the embassies,” Amir-Abdollahian said.

Bahrain like other Gulf Arab states had welcomed the agreement between Riyadh and Tehran to restore relations.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2023

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