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Saudi foreign minister arrives in Tehran amid warming ties

This is the first visit by a Saudi official to Tehran in more than seven years.

Tehran, Iran – Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud arrived in Tehran as Iran and the kingdom continue to develop their ties after reestablishing formal diplomatic ties in March.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdullahian welcomed his Saudi counterpart ahead of the bilateral talks and a press conference is scheduled for later on Saturday.

The Saudi minister may also meet with Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi, who has just completed a tour of Latin America.

Amir Abdullahian and Bin Farhan last met in South Africa in early June on the sidelines of a meeting of BRICS, the economic bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

But it was the first visit to Iran by a Saudi official since 2016, when Riyadh severed diplomatic ties with its diplomatic mission in Tehran following the execution of a Shiite religious leader in Saudi Arabia and attacks in Mashhad.

Tehran and Riyadh agreed to reopen their embassies within two months as part of a China-brokered deal signed in Beijing on March 10, but while diplomatic ties have been restored, reopening embassy buildings has proven more challenging.

Iran reopened its embassy in Riyadh on June 6, followed by its consulate general in Jeddah and a day later the mission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Tehran has reportedly selected Alireza Enayati, former ambassador to Kuwait and deputy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Regional Affairs, as its ambassador to the kingdom. However, Enayati was absent from the reopening ceremony and Iran has not confirmed that he has resumed work at the embassy in Riyadh.

The Iranian embassy was opened by Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular Affairs Alireza Bigdeli, who said, “We are witnessing the beginning of a new chapter in bilateral and regional relations.”

Meanwhile, it is not clear when the Saudi embassy will reopen. Amirabdullahian previously said that Saudi Arabia has selected an ambassador to Tehran, but the kingdom has yet to publicly confirm his identity.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that a Saudi team has been operating out of a luxury hotel in the Iranian capital for weeks as both sides work to officially reopen embassy buildings.

The Saudi foreign minister’s visit to Tehran comes a week after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Riyadh for high-level talks.

Shortly after, it was confirmed that Iraq was able to repay its $2.7 billion debt to Iran from natural gas imports.

The US blocked the money based on sanctions unilaterally imposed on Iran after President Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. Washington said the funds could only be used for “humanitarian and other non-authorized transactions”.

Part of the money was earmarked for the expenses of Iranian pilgrims attending the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, while 80 million euros ($87 million) was reportedly sent to the Iranian mission of the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank.

Meanwhile, media reports indicate that Iran and the United States are holding indirect talks in Oman aimed at de-escalating tensions, which could potentially result in the release of Tehran’s nuclear program, prisoner swaps and frozen Iranian funds.

At the same time, the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia has begun to ease tensions across the region, including in Yemen where both supported opposing sides in devastating wars. Tehran-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was welcomed into the Arab League last month. Saudi Arabia, along with several other Arab states, threw their weight behind the Syrian opposition.

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