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Saudi top diplomat visits Tehran for first time in years

June 17, 2023

The Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers discussed regional security during their meeting in Tehran. The two long-term rivals restored diplomatic ties in March, following Beijing-brokered negotiations.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, right, and his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan shake hands prior to their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, June 17, 2023.
Saudi Arabia's top diplomat has visited Tehran for the first time since the restoration of diplomatic ties in MarchImage: Vahid Salemi/AP/picture alliance

Saudi Arabia's top diplomat discussed regional security with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran on Saturday, during his first visit to the Islamic Republic since a Beijing-brokered deal to restore diplomatic ties in March.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan was officially welcomed into the country by his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian.

Prince Faisal is also due to meet Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi later on Saturday, Iran TV reported.

His visit to the Iranian capital is the first by a Saudi foreign minister since 2006. It comes as the historic rivals work toward more amicable relations following years of tension.

What did the two top diplomats discuss?

The Iranian foreign minister told reporters in a joint press conference on Saturday that he discussed with his Saudi counterpart ways of strengthening cooperation in the fields of security, economy, tourism and transportation.

Regional security seemed to have featured heavily in the discussions.

"I would like to point out the importance of cooperation between our two countries concerning regional security, especially the security of maritime navigation and waterways," Saudi Prince Faisal said.

Amirabdollahian, meanwhile, stressed that "regional security will be ensured by regional actors only" without external interference.

"Our relations are based on a clear foundation of full and mutual respect for independence, sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs," Prince Faisal added, complementing the Iranian diplomat's stance.

Prince Faisal also plans to invite the Shiite country's president to visit the Sunni kingdom soon.

Why is the visit significant?

The visit is the latest of several steps taken by the two countries to restore their strained relationship back to normalcy. Tehran reopened its embassy in Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

Riyadh is also working to reopen its embassy in the Iranian capital. Saudi media reports suggested the move would be taken after the Islamic Adha holiday at the end of the month.

Saudi diplomats will work from a luxury hotel in Tehran in the meantime, as per media reports.

The two countries had severed ties in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked the Saudi Embassy to decry the Sunni kingdom's execution of a Shiite cleric.

But in recent months, Iran has been working hard to mend its relations with the Arab Gulf countries. Its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, even welcomed the restoration of ties with Egypt, severed since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The rapprochement with Iran has led to the Arab League allowing the Shiite Syrian government to rejoin after a suspension that lasted for over a decade.

rmt/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)