After a seven-year closure, Iran announced Monday that it would reopen its embassy in Saudi Arabia this week — a major step toward softening a rivalry with major consequences for the region.
The abrupt announcement, just one day before the embassy was set to reopen in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, came three months after the two Persian Gulf countries signed a China-mediated agreement announcing the restoration of ties and the planned reopening of embassies.
Iran and Saudi Arabia set to restore ties after mediation by China
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said that on Tuesday and Wednesday, it will also reopen its consulate in Jiddah and its permanent representative office with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a Saudi-led 57-member body aimed at protecting global Muslim interests.
The embassy and consulate have already resumed their activities to help facilitate pilgrimages to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holiest site, said ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani.
The missions had been closed since 2016, when Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia executed Shiite cleric Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, who had emerged as a leader in restive, Shiite-majority Eastern Province. Iranians protesting his execution stormed and torched the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, prompting Riyadh to sever all diplomatic ties with Tehran.
Saudi Arabia often accuses Iran of sowing strife among the kingdom’s Shiite minority, and often accuses citizens of spying on Iran’s behalf, executing dozens over the years.
The rivalry ballooned, playing itself out in various conflicts in the region, including in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. In 2019, tensions reached new levels when Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels launched a series of drone attacks on Saudi state-run oil giant Aramco, halving the kingdom’s oil output for days. Similar attacks have followed, the latest as recent as last summer.
Riyadh accuses Tehran of arming the Houthis, who have waged a war against a Saudi-led coalition that seeks to restore Yemen’s government.
Iran is not the only country Saudi Arabia has patched up relations with recently: In April, Riyadh announced that it would reestablish ties with Syria, and has fast-tracked peace negotiations with Yemen’s Houthis.