Iran and Saudi Arabia are exchanging ambassadors for the first time in years

The Saudi Arabian Ambassador Abdullah Alanasi arrived in Tehran on Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry in Riyadh said. Iranian Ambassador Aliresa Enajati, meanwhile, took up his post in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported. The two rival regional powers had come closer again in March through mediation by China. Earlier, the two countries were in a seven-year diplomatic ice age after protests over the execution of a Shiite cleric by the Saudi judiciary saw Saudi Arabian diplomatic missions in Iran be attacked.

In mid-June, Crown Prince Faisal bin Farhan became the first Saudi foreign minister to visit Iran since 2006. In the same month, Iran reopened its embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, in turn, opened its embassy in Tehran in early August. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian then traveled to Riyadh in mid-August.

The rapprochement between Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, and Shia-majority Iran, which is under Western sanctions for its nuclear program, has the potential to shift the balance of power in a region marred by decades of conflict. However, the two countries represent very different positions on many regional issues or even – as in Yemen – support rival conflict parties.

Jean Harris

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