The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran will meet in Beijing on Thursday, an Iranian official and a Saudi state-owned newspaper said, as the two regional powers seek to arrange the next steps for their diplomatic rapprochement under a Chinese-brokered deal.
The meeting between the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, and his Iranian counterpart, Hussein Amir Abdollahian, will be the first official meeting of its kind in more than seven years.
After years of hostility that fueled conflicts in the Middle East, Tehran and Riyadh agreed to end their diplomatic row and reopen their embassies under a deal facilitated by China last month.
“The two chief envoys agreed to meet on April 6 in Beijing because China facilitated the agreement,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters.
The Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper quoted an unnamed source in Riyadh as saying that choosing China as a venue for the meeting “is an extension of Beijing’s positive role in reaching an agreement and facilitating communication between the two countries.”
She added that matters such as the resumption of relations announced last month and arrangements for the exchange of ambassadors would be discussed at the meeting.
Another Iranian official told Reuters, “The next steps will be discussed in the Beijing meeting, such as reopening the two embassies and appointing the two ambassadors.”
Since the Saudi-Iranian agreement, Faisal bin Farhan and his counterpart Abdullahian have spoken by phone on three occasions to discuss common issues between the two countries in light of that deal.
On March 19, an Iranian official reported that the president, Ebrahim Raisi, had accepted an invitation from King Salman to visit Saudi Arabia, information that Riyadh has not confirmed.
Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran in 2016 after storming its embassy in Tehran, amid a dispute between the two countries over the execution of a Shiite cleric in the kingdom. Riyadh then asked Iranian diplomats to leave within 48 hours and evacuated its embassy staff in Tehran.
Relations have deteriorated since 2015 after Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in the Yemen war, as the Houthi group, allied with Iran, forced the Saudi-backed government out of the capital, Sanaa, and took control of it.
The kingdom blamed Tehran for arming the Houthis, who carried out missile and drone attacks on its cities and oil facilities.
And in 2019, Riyadh directly blamed Iran for a major attack on Aramco oil facilities that shut down half of its oil production. Iran denied those accusations.