An Iranian delegation arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to pave the way for reopening diplomatic missions as the Gulf rivals prepare to normalise relations, seven years after an acrimonious split.
The announcement came just days after a Saudi delegation made a similar visit to Tehran hot on the heels of a historic meeting in China between the two governments’ foreign ministers who vowed to bring stability to the turbulent region.
“The Iranian delegation arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday to visit and reopen the Iranian embassy and consulate in accordance with the recent agreement between the two countries,” Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported.
“One team is due to to travel to Jeddah to prepare for the reopening of Iran’s consulate there and its representation in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, while the other will remain in Riyadh to reopen the embassy,” IRNA added.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has been invited to Saudi Arabia, according to Tehran, in what would be the first visit of its kind since Mohammad Khatami went in 1999.
The flurry of diplomatic activity follows last month’s landmark, Chinese-brokered announcement that Iran and Saudi Arabia, who have backed opposing sides in conflicts around the Middle East, would work towards resuming ties.
Riyadh broke off relations in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions following the execution of Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr — one in a series of flashpoints between the long-time foes.
Since the March 10 announcement, the two countries’ foreign ministers have met in China and a Saudi “technical delegation” met Iran’s chief of protocol in Tehran last week, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
As the contacts grow, Saudi Arabia is also negotiating with Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels, eight years after launching a military intervention aimed at dislodging them from power in its impoverished neighbour.
Saudi ambassador Mohammed Al-Jaber travelled to Sanaa, Yemen’s rebel-held capital, this week hoping to “stabilise” a lapsed truce and work towards a “comprehensive political solution” between the Huthis and the ousted government.
Saudi Arabia gathered a multinational coalition to fight the Houthis in 2015, after the rebels took control of Sanaa and large swathes of the country, forcing the government to flee.
It has become a major battleground of Riyadh’s proxy wars with Tehran, which also include conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
Analysts say Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, now wants to exit the eight-year war to focus on domestic projects aimed at diversifying its energy-dependent economy.