Iran and Saudi Arabia want to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies within two months. That was the result of talks in the Chinese capital Beijing, the Iranian and Saudi state press reported in unison. A statement Friday said part of the agreement was an affirmation of respect for each other's sovereignty and non-interference in each other's internal affairs.
The two regional leaders have long sought to ease tensions. Riyadh broke off relations in 2016 after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was stormed by a mob. The background was resentment over the execution of a prominent Shiite dissident in the Sunni kingdom.
An improvement in Saudi-Iranian relations could have ripple effects throughout the region. The Shiite regime in Tehran, for example, sponsors Huthi rebels in Yemen, against whom Riyadh has been at war since 2015. The Huthi, who have built up a considerable arsenal of drones and missiles thanks to Iranian aid, repeatedly target targets in the kingdom. The rich Arab Gulf states currently prefer to focus their energy on rebuilding their economies to become independent of oil revenues. Iran controls a network of armed proxies throughout the region.
In the Arab Gulf states, there is concern not only about Iran's armed proxies, but also about the ballistic missiles that the regime in Tehran possesses. They are skeptical of the agreement on Iran's nuclear program because they fear that easing economic sanctions could give Tehran more money for its destructive activities.
While Saudi Arabia would like to see international pressure on the Islamic Republic, it wants to avoid escalating its confrontation with Iran. Unlike key Gulf allies such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the kingdom has not normalized its relations with Israel, Iran's arch-enemy. The Iranian regime is under domestic political pressure. It faces ongoing protests that are no longer just about the population's displeasure with the economic misery, but also about the regime's paternalism.
Image by Gerd Altmann