RIYADH, April 5 (Reuters) – The top envoys for Saudi Arabia and Iran will meet in Beijing on Thursday, an Iranian official and a Saudi-owned newspaper said, as the two regional rivals work to hash out next steps of their diplomatic rapprochement amid a China-brokered deal.
The meeting between Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian, will be the first formal meeting between Saudi Arabia and Iran’s most senior diplomats in more than seven years.
After years of hostility that had fuelled conflicts across the Middle East, Tehran and Riyadh agreed to end their diplomatic rift and re-open embassies in a major deal facilitated by China last month.
“The top envoys agreed to meet on Apr. 6 in Beijing as the deal was facilitated by China,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters.
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Choosing China “came as an extension of Beijing’s positive role in reaching the agreement and facilitating communication between the two countries,” Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awasat newspaper cited an unidentified source in Riyadh as saying.
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The resumption of the relations that was announced last month and arrangements for the exchange of ambassadors will be discussed in the meeting, it added.
Beijing’s secret role in the breakthrough between Tehran and Riyadh shook up dynamics in the Middle East, where the United States was for decades the main mediator, flexing its security and diplomatic muscles.
“The era of the United States’ involvement in this region is over … The regional countries are capable of preserving security and stability in the Middle East without Washington’s interference,” another Iranian official said.
“The next steps will be discussed in the Beijing meeting, such as re-opening of the embassies and appointing ambassadors.”
Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran in 2016 after its embassy in Tehran was stormed during a dispute between the two countries over Riyadh’s execution of a Shi’ite Muslim cleric. The kingdom subsequently asked Iranian diplomats to leave within 48 hours while it evacuated its embassy staff from Teheran.
The relationship had worsened since 2015, after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in the Yemen war, where the Iran-aligned Houthi movement ousted a Saudi-backed government and took over the capital Sanaa.
For Saudi Arabia, the deal could mean improved security. The kingdom has blamed Iran for arming the Houthis who carried out missile and drone attacks on its cities and oil facilities.
In 2019, Riyadh blamed a massive attack on Aramco oil facilities, which knocked out half of its oil output, directly on the Islamic Republic.
Tehran denied those allegations.
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(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Raissa Kasolowsky)