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Iran & Saudi Arabia Agree To Mend Relations With China Playing Mediator

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After years of hostility that threatened Gulf peace and security and fuelled conflicts from Yemen to Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia decided on Friday to mend fences once more.

Top security officials from the two competing Middle Eastern powers met in Beijing for four days before making the previously undisclosed agreement public.

In a joint statement, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China announced that the two Gulf countries had decided to resume diplomatic ties and reopen embassies within two months. The respect for state sovereignty and non-interference in domestic matters are both affirmed in the agreement, it said.

After its embassy in Tehran was stormed during a dispute between the two nations over Riyadh’s execution of a Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran in 2016.

Iran has also been held responsible by the kingdom for attacks on tankers in Gulf waters, as well as missile and drone strikes on its oil installations in 2019. Tehran refuted the accusations.

The Houthi movement in Yemen, which is supported by Iran, has also launched drone and cross-border missile attacks into Saudi Arabia, which heads a coalition battling the Houthis. In 2022, the attacks were also extended to the United Arab Emirates.

The top security official for Iran, Ali Shamkhani, and the national security advisor for Saudi Arabia, Musaed bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, agreed to revive a security cooperation agreement from 2001 as well as an earlier agreement on trade, economy, and investment.

Wang Yi, China’s top official, hailed the agreement as a success for dialogue and peace and promised that Beijing would continue to contribute positively to the solution of challenging global problems.

John Kirby, a spokesman for national security policy at the White House, said Saudi Arabia had kept Washington informed about the negotiations in Beijing but that Washington had not taken an active part. He claimed that Washington had backed the initiative in an effort to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen.

“This is not about China. We support any effort to de-escalate tensions in the region. We think that’s in our interests, and it’s something that we worked on through our own effective combination of deterrence and diplomacy,” Kirby said.

During President Joe Biden’s administration, long-standing strategic ties between Riyadh and Washington have become strained over the kingdom’s human rights record, the Yemen war, and more recently, relations with Russia and OPEC+ oil output.

In comparison, President Xi Jinping’s high-profile visit to Saudi Arabia three months ago highlighted the country’s expanding ties with China. The announcement on Friday came the same day that Xi secured a third tenure as president of China despite numerous difficulties.

Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two major Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim powers in the Middle East, have been at odds for a long time. They have supported opposing sides in proxy wars in places like Yemen and Syria.

As Iran tries to thwart American efforts to isolate it in the region and Saudi Arabia tries to concentrate on economic development, analysts say both parties stand to gain from de-escalation.

Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey, as well as fellow Gulf states the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait, welcomed the restoration of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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