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After years, Iran diplomats return to Saudi Arabia to take up posts in Islamic forum

Arrival of Iranian delegation to Organization of Islamic Cooperation marks first such diplomatic move between Tehran, Riyadh since ties cut in 2016

Illustrative: Then-director general of International Peace and Security Department at Iran's Foreign Ministry, Reza Najafi, center, talks to a Saudi protocol official during a group picture of leaders attending Islamic Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Illustrative: Then-director general of International Peace and Security Department at Iran's Foreign Ministry, Reza Najafi, center, talks to a Saudi protocol official during a group picture of leaders attending Islamic Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, June 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian envoys have returned to the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in the first such diplomatic move since the two countries cut ties in 2016, the foreign ministry announced Monday.

“The delegation is now in Jeddah (western Saudi Arabia) to start its work at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,” Saeed Khatibzadeh said at his weekly news conference.

This “can be a good prelude for the two sides to send delegations to visit their embassies,” he added.

The Iranian delegation have arrived in Jeddah but “haven’t attended any meetings yet,” an OIC official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Tehran’s diplomats are expected to attend a sub-ministerial meeting on January 23, he added.

Shiite-majority Iran and the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia are both members of the pan-Islamic body of 57 member states.

The two regional rivals have so far held four rounds of talks aimed at improving relations, in Iraq, since April.

An Iranian woman holding a placard takes part in a demonstration outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran on January 3, 2016, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

“We have given our written points of interest to the Saudi delegation at the fourth round of negotiations in Baghdad and we are awaiting the responses,” Khatibzadeh said.

Riyadh and Tehran support rival sides in several conflict zones across the region, including in Syria and Yemen.

In 2016, protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran after the kingdom executed revered Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Riyadh responded at the time by cutting ties with Tehran, while OIC foreign ministers condemned the violence.

Khatibzadeh reiterated Iran’s position that Tehran is “ready to open its embassy,” but that depends on what “practical steps” Saudi Arabia takes.

In December, foreign ministry officials in both countries said the kingdom had granted visas to three Iranian diplomats to the OIC.

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