Maldives follow Saudi lead in restoring ties with Iran

Move by South Asian archipelagic state, a destination for Israeli tourists which has had intermittent Israel ties, follows talks between Maldives and Iran foreign ministers at UN

A commuter takes pictures with his mobile phone of a decorated wall along a street ahead of presidential elections in The Maldives, in the capital Male on September 6, 2023. (Mohamed Afrah / AFP)
A commuter takes pictures with his mobile phone of a decorated wall along a street ahead of presidential elections in The Maldives, in the capital Male on September 6, 2023. (Mohamed Afrah / AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — The Maldives have restored diplomatic relations with Iran, which the Indian Ocean islands broke off seven years ago in support of Saudi Arabia, the Iranian foreign ministry said Saturday.

The move, which came in a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, followed a Chinese-brokered rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March.

Shiite-dominated Iran and Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia agreed to resume diplomatic relations and reopen their respective embassies following the deal announced in March. Earlier this month, the countries reopened their respective embassies and sent ambassadors, cementing their ties going forward.

Since the March deal, Saudi Arabia also restored ties with Iranian 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.

Riyadh broke off its relations with Tehran in 2016 after protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran following the kingdom’s execution of a leading Shiite cleric.

This handout picture provided by the Saudi foreign ministry shows Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, left, meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, in Jeddah on August 18, 2023. (Saudi Foreign Ministry/AFP)

Several of its allies in the Middle East and beyond followed suit, including the Muslim-majority Maldives and the Horn of Africa state of Djibouti, which also restored its relations with Iran in New York earlier this week.

Maldives and Israel have no formal ties but the state is a tourist destination for Israelis.

The countries once had thriving diplomatic relations. Israel was the third state to recognize the island republic in 1965, and the Israeli ambassador was the first to present his credentials to the Maldives’ president. However, relations were suspended in 1974.

Located in the Indian Ocean, the archipelago nation of roughly 330,000 inhabitants, spread across hundreds of islands, does not tolerate the public practice of any religion other than Islam and does not grant non-Muslims citizenship.

Relations with Israel began improving again in the 1990s. In 2009, then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman and his Maldivian counterpart signed three cooperation agreements in the fields of tourism, health, education and culture, as it appeared relations were again back on track. In 2010, Israeli ophthalmologists visited the country to perform eye operations.

Illustrative: Foreign tourists arrive at a resort on the Kurumba island in Maldives, February 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe, File)

The next year, the Maldives’ then-foreign minister, Ahmed Naseem, became the first senior official to visit Israel. During his four-day visit, he met with then-president Shimon Peres and Liberman, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem and toured the country.

In 2012, Mohamed Nasheed — the island nation’s first democratically elected president, known for his pro-Israel stance — was deposed in what he calls a political coup. He was replaced by Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who vowed to appoint hardline Islamic conservatives to his cabinet.

In the wake of the 2014 Gaza war, the Maldives dissolved its agreements with Israel and voted to ban Israeli imports.

In 2020, Maldivian officials denied local reports they were in talks with Israel about reestablishing ties following the signing of the Abraham Accords which normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.

In January 2022, Israeli diplomats said they expected to soon normalize ties with the Maldives and the Muslim-majority island nation of The Comoros.

In recent months, Riyadh and Jerusalem have been in talks for a possible US-brokered normalization deal that would see the countries establish formal diplomatic ties.

The potential deal featured heavily in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the UNGA on Friday. He said Israel and Saudi Arabia were on “the cusp” of an agreement that would transform the Middle East.

Netanyahu also devoted significant time in his speech to the Iranian nuclear threat and Tehran’s support for terrorism.

Most Popular
read more: