Saudi high-level visit to Iran first in two decades in effort to promote regional security

Relations between two countries severed in 2016 when Riyadh executed dissident Saudi Shia cleric and Iranian protesters ransacked Saudi embassy in Tehran

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has visited Iran as the kingdom continues its diplomatic efforts to improve its relations with its neighbours and promote regional security.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan became the first senior Saudi to visit Iran in two decades when he visited Tehran to mark the reopening of Riyadh’s embassy in the Iranian capital. He held talks with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and delivered an invitation to visit the kingdom to President Ebrahim Raisi.

Relations between the two countries were severed in 2016 after Riyadh executed dissident Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr and Iranian protesters ransacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Prince Faisal said the ministers discussed “mutual respect, non-interference” each other’s internal affairs and “co-operation on maritime security and reducing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”.


Mr Amir-Abdollahian declared commercial ties and joint investments as well as security were on the agenda. Iran “considers security to be a comprehensive concept, which includes political, economic, cultural, trade and social dimensions among all the countries of the region”, he stated, suggesting that Saudi reconciliation could lead to Iran’s regional acceptance.

Ahead of the talks, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud met French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris where they reiterated their call for Lebanon to elect a president and launch reforms to rescue the country from multiple socio-economic crises.

While they vowed to continue efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote security, Mr Macron also stressed the commitment of French firms to the crown prince’s Vision 2030 plan for diversifying the Saudi economy to end its dependence on oil. The crown prince is set to attend the Paris Summit for a New Global Financing Pact hosted by Mr Macron this week.

In Riyadh, US envoy Brett McGurk pressed Saudi officials on Saudi normalisation with Israel although Saudi Arabia has repeatedly refused to cede its demand for the emergence of a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory before establishing relations with Israel.

Mr McGurk’s visit came less than two weeks after US secretary of state Antony Blinken raised this issue with the crown prince but received no encouragement.

Meanwhile, the US is reportedly continuing backchannel efforts to de-escalate tensions with Iran. Washington-based Al Monitor website quoted Omani foreign minister Sayyid Badr AlBusaid as saying talks have continued for the release of three US-Iran dual citizens imprisoned in Iran in exchange for reaching an “understanding” on nuclear issues and freeing Iranian funds blocked in foreign banks.

Once Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz are freed, Iran would not enrich uranium to more than 60 per cent purity (which is short of weapons grade), install advanced centrifuges for enrichment or add to its stockpile of nuclear material.

Iran would also co-operate with International Atomic Energy Agency monitors tracking its nuclear programme.

Last week, Washington approved the release of $2.7 billion owed by Iraq to Iran for electricity and gas and talks have continued for South Korean banks to unfreeze $7 billion in Iranian funds. The US may also ease some sanctions although the administration could come under pressure from Israel and its allies in Congress to boost rather than lift sanctions.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times