Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s Foreign Ministers met in Beijing on Thursday to discuss key details in the resumption of their relations following a landmark agreement mediated by China last month.
In the highest-level meeting between the two sides in more than seven years, Iran’s Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud signed an agreement to reopen embassies and consulates in their mutual countries, according to Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The two sides – previously staunch adversaries who’d severed diplomatic relations in 2016 – also agreed to examine ways to expand their cooperation, including the resumption of flights, mutual trips from official delegations and the private sector, and facilitating visas, according to their statement, released by Iran.
“The two sides emphasized their readiness to eliminate all the obstacles facing the expansion of cooperation between the two countries,” the statement read.
Embassies would be opened in Riyadh and Tehran and consulates in Jeddah and Mashhad.
Iran’s Amir-Abdollahian said the meeting with his Saudi counterpart was “positive” in a statement on Twitter.
Discussions focused on “the beginning of official diplomatic relations” between the two nations, “emphasizing stability, stable security and development of the region,” he said.
The meeting was the highest-level gathering of officials from Iran and Saudi Arabia in more than seven years and comes after the two sides agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties following talks in Beijing in March.
Video released by Saudi state media on Thursday showed the two ministers joining hands while posing for photos, encouraged by Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang who was standing in the middle.
The resumption of relations between the two countries has been broadly seen as a diplomatic victory for China in a Gulf region that has long been considered part of the US’ domain of influence.
China’s top diplomat Wang Yi called the agreement a “victory for dialogue and a victory for peace,” and framed it as part of China’s “constructive role in facilitating the proper settlement of hot-spot issues around the world,” according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry in March when the deal was announced.
On Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Beijing will continue to work to improve relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“China is ready to continue to play an active role in mediation, support the two sides in increasing their relations, realize good-neighborly friendship and contribute Chinese wisdom and strength to the security, stability and development of the Middle East region,” Mao said during a regular press conference.
Riyadh severed ties with Tehran in 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital following the execution of a Shi’ite cleric in Saudi Arabia. Since then, they have fought a proxy war that has embroiled a number of neighboring countries, bringing the region ever closer to conflict.
The two countries have also supported opposite sides of a civil war in Yemen, which has been described by the United Nations as one the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Saudi Arabia has, however, been engaged in direct talks with the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, and an unofficial ceasefire appears to be holding.
The statement released Thursday afternoon did not mention that conflict, but included a pledge to “expand their cooperation in any field that can ensure the security and stability of the region and realize the interests of its nations and countries.”