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Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister visits Tehran, marking a historic step towards reconciliation

The meeting between the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia aimed to bridge the seven-year-long diplomatic rift and foster cooperation on various fronts.

Tehran, Iran, June 18:  In a significant development, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, embarked on a diplomatic visit to Tehran on Saturday, signifying a landmark moment in the efforts to mend relations between the long-time rivals. The meeting between the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran aimed to bridge the seven-year-long diplomatic rift and foster cooperation on various fronts.

During the visit, the Saudi Foreign Minister emphasized the importance of enhanced maritime security in the strategically vital Gulf region, which has witnessed heightened tensions between Iran and the United States in recent years.

With approximately one-fifth of the world’s oil passing through the Strait of Hormuz, the area has become a focal point of contention.

“I would also like to highlight the two countries’ discussions on cooperation on ensuring maritime security and reducing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

In an effort to build a solid foundation for future relations, the Saudi Minister emphasized the core principles of mutual respect, non-interference in internal affairs, and adherence to the United Nations Charter.

By prioritizing these principles, both Saudi Arabia and Iran aim to secure their respective interests while paving the way for improved bilateral relations.

Notably, Saudi Arabia’s King and Crown Prince have extended an invitation to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, expressing their anticipation of a visit to the Kingdom in the near future.

The recent ruptured diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran trace back to 2016 when the Saudi embassy in Tehran was attacked by protesters following the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric by Saudi authorities.

However, a historic deal brokered by China in March paved the way for the reconciliation process, marking a significant turning point in the strained relations between the two regional powerhouses.

To give an actual shape to the deal, earlier this month, Iran declared to reopen its embassy in Saudi Arabia, seven years after its closure due to the diplomatic fallout.

Furthermore, both countries have been steadily reducing tensions across various fronts, aiming to bolster security and stability in the region, which suffered continuous instabilities in the last decades.

Saudi Arabia’s leadership has also taken steps towards normalizing relations with Syria and its President, Bashar al-Assad, since the March agreement. This move has resulted in Syria, a key ally of Iran, regaining its membership in the Arab League.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s engagement with the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen, where Riyadh and Tehran have been supporting opposing sides in the civil war since 2015, highlights the broader efforts to de-escalate conflicts and promote stability.

Recent reports of Saudi Arabia may normalise relations with Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon have further highlighted that Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Mohammed bin Salman positioning itself as a stabilizing and progressive force in West Asia.

The evolving rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran has significant geopolitical implications. It has isolated Israel, which had sought to engage with Arab nations and diplomatically isolate Iran, particularly through the Abraham Accords, first signed with the UAE and Bahrain in 2020.

Moreover, analysts suggest that this shift will also reduce American geopolitical influence in the region, providing opportunities for new players such as China, India, and to some extent, Russia.

However, it is important to acknowledge that Saudi Arabia and Iran have a deep-rooted civilizational rift stemming from the centuries-old Shia-Sunni divide. This historical divide adds a layer of complexity to the relationship and renders it fragile.

The ability of both nations to navigate and overcome this rift will be crucial in determining the success of their reconciliation efforts.

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