Iran reopens embassy in Saudi Arabia

Published June 7, 2023
Alireza Bigdeli (right), Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Ali al-Youssef, Director of Consular Affairs at Saudi Arabia’s ministry of foreign affairs (centre), and Hassan Zarnegar, in charge of consular affairs at the Iranian embassy, attend the reopening ceremony in Riyadh on Tuesday.—AFP
Alireza Bigdeli (right), Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Ali al-Youssef, Director of Consular Affairs at Saudi Arabia’s ministry of foreign affairs (centre), and Hassan Zarnegar, in charge of consular affairs at the Iranian embassy, attend the reopening ceremony in Riyadh on Tuesday.—AFP

RIYADH: Iran reopened its embassy in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday after a seven-year closure, reaffirming a Chinese-brokered rapprochement that has redrawn the region’s diplomatic map.

The Iranian mission resumes in its former premises in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter—near Syria’s embassy, which is also expected to reopen soon following Saudi outreach to Damascus.

“We consider today an important day in the relations of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Alireza Bigdeli told a flag-raising ceremony.

“The cooperation between the countries is entering a new era.”

In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restart their respective embassies and work towards resuming ties, after Riyadh broke off relations in 2016 following Iranian protests.

Saudi Arabia has yet to confirm when it will open its embassy in Tehran or its pick for ambassador, although a Saudi delegation visited the Iranian capital in April.

Tuesday’s reopening coincides with a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Saudi Arabia, which comes as the oil-rich country has been forging closer relations with Washington’s rivals.

The ceremony at the embassy was also attended by Ali Al Youssef, director of consular affairs at the Saudi foreign ministry.

The mission returns under the leadership of Alireza Enayati, Iran’s former ambassador to Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran in 2016 after its embassy in Tehran and consulate in the north-western city of Mashhad were attacked during protests over Riyadh’s execution of Shia cleric Nimr al Nimr.

After years of discord, the two Middle East heavyweights signed a surprise reconciliation agreement in China on March 10.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has restored ties with Tehran ally Damascus and ramped up a push for peace in Yemen, where it has for years led a military coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi forces.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have backed opposing sides in conflict zones across the Middle East for years.

Blinken is expected to meet the Saudi de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah during his visit, according to a US official.

The top US diplomat is also due to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2023

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