Saudi Crown Prince Meets Iran’s Foreign Minister as Relations Thaw

Iran’s Foreign Ministry/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia August 18, 2023.

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Friday in the highest-level talks since the countries reconciled in March after years of bitter rivalry that destabilized the region.

After the meeting, Iran’s semi-official news agency Tasnim reported Abdollahian as saying the de facto Saudi ruler had accepted his invitation to visit Tehran.

The Saudi crown prince has pushed to reorient Saudi foreign policy in recent years amid troubles in its historically close relationship with the United States.

The unscheduled meeting in Jeddah came a day after Amirabdollahian had declared ties between the countries were “on the right track” as he met his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

“Discussions were frank, beneficial and productive,” Abdollahian said in a social media post after meeting the prince, adding that the countries “agree on the security and development of all in the region.”

Footage of the meeting on Iranian state media showed Prince Mohammed and Amirabdollahian smiling as they spoke, while Prince Faisal and the Iranian delegation looked on.

Rivalry between Iran’s revolutionary, Shi’ite Muslim leaders and Saudi Arabia’s Sunni ruling family dominated the Middle East for years as they competed for influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain amid a wave of sectarian bloodshed.

However, China brokered a rapprochement in March leading to a resumption of full diplomatic relations, which Saudi Arabia had broken off in 2016 when protesters attacked its Tehran embassy over Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric.

Prince Faisal visited Tehran in June and said he hoped Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi would visit the kingdom at the “appropriate time.”

After years of rivalry, and with some of the main regional arenas for their competition more stable than in previous years, both sides have reason to change tack.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wanted to end political and economic isolation pushed by the United States and saw new relations with Saudi Arabia as a way to do so, Iranian officials have said.

Saudi Arabia had meanwhile lost confidence in U.S. commitment to shared regional security concerns and wanted to bolster ties with China, which has retained good relations with Iran. This month it succeeded in getting China to attend a diplomatic meeting on Ukraine that Beijing had earlier avoided.

Prince Faisal also spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary General Antony Blinken, with the pair discussing more coordination to boost “security and stability in the Middle East region,” Saudi state media reported on Friday.