The Saudi Arabian and Iranian foreign ministers spoke by phone to mark the beginning of Ramadan and have agreed to meet “soon” to start the process of re-opening embassies and consulates, according to Saudi Arabia’s foreign affairs ministry.
The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, had a call with his counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and the pair “exchanged greetings and congratulations on the occasion of the holy month of Ramadan”, which begins on Thursday in both countries, the ministry said.
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“The two ministers agreed to hold a bilateral meeting soon, to pave the way for the reopening of embassies and consulates between the two countries,” the Saudi Arabian foreign ministry said in a statement on Twitter.
— Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦 (@KSAmofaEN) March 23, 2023
The ministers’ expected meeting is said to be the next step in the normalisation of relations between the two countries following the surprise Chinese-brokered rapprochement announced on March 10, which is expected to see diplomatic ties restored seven years after they were severed.
Riyadh cut relations with Tehran after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi Arabian diplomatic missions in the country in 2016 following Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shia Muslim scholar – just one in a series of flashpoints between the two longstanding regional rivals.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have supported rival sides in several conflict zones across the Middle East, including in Yemen, where the Houthi rebels are backed by Tehran and where Riyadh leads a military coalition supporting the government.
But both sides have recently sought to improve ties.
The Chinese-brokered agreement is expected to see Shia-majority Iran and mainly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia reopen their embassies and missions within two months and implement security as well as economic cooperation deals signed more than 20 years ago.
On Sunday, an Iranian official said Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi had favourably received an invitation to visit Saudi Arabia from King Salman, though Riyadh had yet to confirm. Amir-Abdollahian also told reporters the same day that the two countries had agreed to hold a meeting between their top diplomats and that three locations had been suggested, without specifying which.
The detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran has the potential to reshape relations across a region characterised by turbulence for decades.