After 7 years, Iran’s embassy gate in Riyadh reopens as rivals move to normalize ties

Delegation from Tehran arrives after landmark Chinese-brokered announcement that two nations would work toward resuming relations

Women walk past the closed Iranian embassy in the diplomatic quarter of the Saudi capital Riyadh, on April 11, 2023. (Fayez Nureldine / AFP)
Women walk past the closed Iranian embassy in the diplomatic quarter of the Saudi capital Riyadh, on April 11, 2023. (Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

TEHRAN — An Iranian delegation arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to pave the way for reopening diplomatic missions as the Gulf rivals prepare to normalize relations, seven years after an acrimonious split.

The Iranian embassy’s main gate in Riyadh was reopened for the first time in seven years so that the Iranian team could inspect the premises, a Reuters report said.

“The Iranian delegation will take the necessary measures in Riyadh and Jeddah to set up the embassy and consulate general,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanaani, said in a statement.

Riyadh broke off relations with Tehran in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions following the execution of Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr — one in a series of flashpoints between the long-time foes.

The Saudi embassy in Tehran was attacked, its staff were evacuated, and the Saudis then gave Iran’s diplomats in Riyadh 48 hours to leave.

The Iranian delegation’s arrival came days after a Saudi delegation made a similar visit to Tehran hot on the heels of a historic meeting in China between the two governments’ foreign ministers who vowed to bring stability to the turbulent region.

“The Iranian delegation arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday to visit and reopen the Iranian embassy and consulate in accordance with the recent agreement between the two countries,” Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported.

“One team is due to travel to Jeddah to prepare for the reopening of Iran’s consulate there and its representation in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, while the other will remain in Riyadh to reopen the embassy,” IRNA added.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has been invited to Saudi Arabia, according to Tehran, in what would be the first visit of its kind since Mohammad Khatami went in 1999.

The flurry of diplomatic activity follows last month’s landmark, Chinese-brokered announcement that Iran and Saudi Arabia, who have backed opposing sides in conflicts around the Middle East, would work towards resuming ties.

An Iranian woman holds up a poster showing Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Saudi Shiite cleric who was executed by Saudi Arabia, in Tehran, Iran, during a protest on January 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Since the March 10 announcement, the two countries’ foreign ministers have met in China and a Saudi “technical delegation” met Iran’s chief of protocol in Tehran last week, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

As the contacts grow, Saudi Arabia is also negotiating with Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels, eight years after launching a military intervention aimed at dislodging them from power in its impoverished neighbor.

Saudi ambassador Mohammed Al-Jaber traveled to Sanaa, Yemen’s rebel-held capital, this week hoping to “stabilize” a lapsed truce and work towards a “comprehensive political solution” between the Huthis and the ousted government.

A child injured in a deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrike rests in a hospital in Saada, Yemen, Aug. 12, 2018 (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Saudi Arabia gathered a multinational coalition to fight the Huthis in 2015, after the rebels took control of Sanaa and large swaths of the country, forcing the government to flee.

It has become a major battleground of Riyadh’s proxy wars with Tehran, which also include conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Analysts say Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, now wants to exit the eight-year war to focus on domestic projects aimed at diversifying its energy-dependent economy.

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