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Iran's Foreign Minister meets Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince as long-standing tensions show signs of easing

The last Iranian Foreign Minister to visit Riyadh was Mohammad Javad Zarif in 2015, after which Saudi Arabia broke ties with Tehran.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee Riyadh Published on: August 18, 2023 19:17 IST
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian with Saudi
Image Source : AP Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Friday met Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as both countries considered arch-rivals of each other for several years are trying to defuse tensions following Chinese mediation.

This is a major visit as Iran and Saudi Arabia are reopening diplomatic missions in each other's countries as a sign of thawing of strained ties. The last visit of an Iranian Foreign Minister was back in 2015, when Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to the Kingdom to offer condolences for the death of King Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia had severed ties with Iran in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran and Saudi diplomatic posts, in retaliation of the execution of a prominant Shiite cleric along with 46 others in Riyadh.

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Amirabdollahian said that he spoke with the Saudi Crown Prince for around 90 minutes and termed it as a "honest, useful and productive conversation" based on policies of neighbourhood. Both leaders agreed on "security and development for all" in the Middle East, he said.

Amirabdollahian arrived in Riyadh on Thursday to meet his counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan. This came after Riyadh and Tehran reached an agreement with China for easing tensions and reopening embassies in March this year.

Since the Saudi kingdom broke ties with Tehran, the US withdrew from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers in 2018. Iran has also been blamed for several attacks, including a missile and drone strike on Saudi Arabia's oil industry that temporarily reduced the kingdom's crude production.

However, after the COVID-19 pandemic and the controversial pullout of US forces from Afghanistan, several nations in the Middle East have reassessed on improved relations with Iran, with Prince Mohammed's desire for a peaceful Middle East with stable oil prices to bolster his development plans.

Now, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has even invited Iranian President Ebraham Raisi, a protege of the latter country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Iran-Saudi Arabia conflict

Although Saudi Arabia broke ties with Iran in 2016, the conflict between the two countries originate several decades ago. Both nations are long-time rivals who have been locked in a fierce struggle for dominance in the Middle Eastern region.

One of the main characteristics of the Iran-Saudi Arabia conflict is based on religious differences. Iran is largely composed of Shia Muslims, while the Saudi population contains mostly Sunni Muslims. As Riyadh sought to promote itself as the leader of the Muslim, it received a strong challenge by the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979.

Since then, Riyadh and Tehran have battled for increasing their influence in what has been called as a 'proxy' conflict, sometimes compared with the Cold War as the nations are not fighting directly. Both countries have backed rival sides and militias in other countries to counter each other's growing influence.

Saudi Arabia is alleged to have backed the rebel groups in Syria trying to overthrow the Iranian-backed government of President Bashar al-Assad. Iran has also backed its ally Shia militia group Hezbollah in Lebanon, while Saudi opposition and influence forced the then-Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign in 2017 over Hezbollah's involvement in several regional conflicts.

The ensuing conflict between the powerful neighbours have forced other world powers to take sides. Saudi Arabia's regime received support from the US and its allies, including Israel, while Iran is an essential ally of Russia.

(with inputs from agencies)

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