Arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to end years of hostilities in China-brokered deal

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Abu Dhabi, UAE (CNN) Saudi Arabia and Iran announced on Friday that they had agreed to restore diplomatic ties after seven years of hostility, in a deal between major regional rivals that could have broad implications for the Middle East. East.

Riyadh and Tehran plan to reopen their embassies within two months under a deal brokered by China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, said in a joint statement after talks in Beijing on Friday.

They also plan to re-implement a security pact signed 22 years ago under which the two sides agreed to cooperate on terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering, as well as reviving a trade agreement and technology of 1998.

Friday’s announcement is also a diplomatic victory for China in a Gulf region that has long been considered part of the United States’ sphere of influence. It comes as the Biden administration seeks its own victory in the Middle East by trying to broker a normalization pact between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Talks had been ongoing since March 6 in Beijing between Iranian national security chief Ali Shamkhani, Saudi National Security Council adviser Mosaed Bin Mohammad Al-Aiban and senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, according to state media. Iranians.

Video of the signing ceremony released by Iranian media showed officials seated around tables on either side with the Saudi, Iranian and Chinese flags around them.

“We will continue to play a constructive role in properly handling hot spot issues in today’s world in accordance with the wishes of all countries and demonstrate our responsibility as a great country,” Wang said. adding that Chinese President Xi Jinping supported him from the start.

In an apparent pushback to American influence, Wang said “the world is not limited to the Ukrainian question” while emphasizing that the fate of the Middle East should be determined by the peoples of the Middle East.

“The foreign ministers of the two countries will meet to implement this decision and make the necessary arrangements for the exchange of ambassadors,” the joint statement said. “Both sides agree to respect each other’s sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.”

Saudi Arabia and Iran previously held talks aimed at reconciliation in Oman and Iraq.

Riyadh severed ties with Tehran in 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital following the execution of a Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia. Since then, they have waged a proxy war that has involved a number of neighboring countries, bringing the region ever closer to war.

In Yemen, the two countries have supported opposing sides in a civil war that has been described by the United Nations as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. From there, Houthi rebels fired missiles at Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, targeting oil infrastructure vital to their economies.

Saudi Arabia has, however, engaged in direct talks with the Houthis and an unofficial ceasefire appears to be in effect.

In a speech before the signing of the agreement with his Iranian counterpart, Al-Aiban of Saudi Arabia called for non-interference in state sovereignty to be a “fundamental pillar for the development of relations”.

“We appreciate what we have achieved and hope that we will continue the constructive dialogue, in accordance with the pillars and foundations included in the agreement,” he said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian welcomed the deal and said Tehran would step up its diplomatic efforts in the region.

“The return to normal relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia makes the two countries, the region and the Muslim world stronger,” Amir-Abdollahian tweeted on Friday.

Tehran finds itself increasingly isolated on the world stage. Talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers are frozen and relations with Western states have been strained anew due to the Islamic Republic’s brutal crackdown on protests that began in September .

Iran’s main international ally, Russia, is concerned about the war in Ukraine, while China, its other ally, has recently courted Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s arch-rival.

β€œFor Saudi Arabia, the rapprochement with Iran is a key part of a major diplomatic offensive on all fronts,” said Hussein Ibish, senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “Just as Saudi Arabia normalizes relations with Iran, it produces a potential framework to eventually, perhaps, normalize with Israel as well.”

“The fact that it was agreed in Beijing is very important for China and its rise as a diplomatic and strategic player in the Gulf region,” Ibish said. “It seems to recognize China’s unique role in its ability to mediate Tehran-Riyadh relations, occupying a position that was previously occupied by European countries, if not the United States, and that will not particularly sit well with Washington.”

The reconciliation comes as China expands its diplomatic reach in the Arab world. In December, Chinese President Xi Jinping was welcomed to Riyadh in an extravagant ceremony as part of a visit that brought together 14 Arab heads of state. It was just months after a relatively low-key meeting with US President Joe Biden, whose relations with Saudi Arabia have been frosty.

“China’s role as a broker is striking and could foreshadow a bolder diplomatic stance,” said Sanam Vakil, senior researcher for the Middle East and North Africa program at London-based think tank Chatham House.

“But we have to be careful not to exaggerate Beijing’s intentions. It’s more about China’s interests in the region. China has brought together two key players – regional and economic players – with the aim of reducing tensions regions and to facilitate greater economic engagement with both.”

Xiaofei Xu, Shawn Deng and Abbas Al Lawati contributed to this report.

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