Iran reopens embassy in Saudi Arabia, touts ‘new era’ in ties

At flag-raising ceremony, Iranian deputy FM praises cooperation between the countries after years of tensions; event held as Blinken due to arrive in country

Iranian and Saudi delegates attend the reopening of Iran's embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Iranian and Saudi delegates attend the reopening of Iran's embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Iran reopened on Tuesday its embassy in Saudi Arabia after a seven-year closure, reaffirming a Chinese-brokered rapprochement that has redrawn the region’s diplomatic map.

The Iranian mission resumes in its former premises in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter — near Syria’s embassy, which is also expected to reopen soon following Saudi outreach to Damascus.

“We consider today an important day in the relations of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Alireza Bigdeli told a flag-raising ceremony.

“The cooperation between the countries is entering a new era.”

In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restart their respective embassies and work towards resuming ties, after Riyadh in 2016 broke off relations following Iranian protests.

Saudi Arabia has yet to confirm when it will open its embassy in Tehran or its pick for ambassador, although a Saudi delegation visited the Iranian capital in April.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, at right, shakes hands with Saudi national security adviser Musaad bin Mohammed al-Aiban, at left, as Wang Yi, China’s most senior diplomat, looks on, at center, for a photo during a closed meeting held in Beijing, March 11, 2023. (Luo Xiaoguang/Xinhua via AP)

Tuesday’s reopening coincides with a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Saudi Arabia, which comes as the oil-rich kingdom has been forging closer relations with Washington’s rivals.

The ceremony at the embassy was also attended by Ali Al Youssef, director of consular affairs at the Saudi foreign ministry.

The mission returns under the leadership of Alireza Enayati, Iran’s former ambassador to Kuwait.

Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia severed relations with Shiite-led Iran in 2016 after its embassy in Tehran and consulate in the northwestern city of Mashhad were attacked during protests over Riyadh’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

After years of discord, the two Middle East heavyweights signed a surprise reconciliation agreement in China on March 10.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has restored ties with Tehran ally Syria and ramped up a push for peace in Yemen, where it has for years led a military coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi forces.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have backed opposing sides in conflict zones across the Middle East for years.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a Senate Appropriations hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Blinken is expected to meet the Saudi de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah during his visit, according to a US official.

The top US diplomat is also due to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday.

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