(CNN) — Saudi Arabia and Iran announced on Friday that they had agreed to restore diplomatic ties after seven years of hostility, in a deal between the arch-regional rivals that could have long-term implications for the Middle East.
Riyadh and Tehran plan to reopen their embassies within two months under a Chinese-brokered deal, Saudi Arabia and Iran said in a joint statement after talks in Beijing on Friday.
They hope to reapply a defense pact signed 22 years ago in which the two sides agreed to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering, as well as renew a 1998 trade and technology agreement.
Friday’s announcement was a diplomatic victory for China in the Gulf region, which has long been considered part of the US’s sphere of influence. It comes at a time when the Biden administration is trying to secure its own victory in the Middle East by trying to broker a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s state media reported that talks between Iran’s National Security Chief Ali Shamkhani, Saudi National Security Council Adviser Mosaid bin Mohammad Al-Aiban and Chinese diplomatic chief Wang Yi have been underway in Beijing since March 6.
Video of the signing ceremony aired by Iranian media showed officials sitting around tables on opposite sides, surrounded by the flags of Saudi Arabia, Iran and China.
“In accordance with the will of all countries, we will continue to play a constructive role in properly managing controversial issues in the world today and demonstrate our responsibility as a great country,” Wang said, backed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. He is from the beginning.
In an apparent counter to US influence, Wang insisted that “the world is not limited to the Ukraine issue,” while insisting that the fate of the Middle East should be decided by the people of the Middle East.
To implement this decision, the foreign ministers of the two countries will meet and take necessary steps to exchange ambassadors, the joint statement said. “Both parties agree to respect sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.”
Saudi Arabia and Iran have previously held reconciliation talks in Oman and Iraq.
Riyadh cut ties with Tehran in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital following the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia. Since then, they have waged a proxy war involving many neighboring countries, bringing the region ever closer to war.
In Yemen, both countries have backed opposing sides in a civil war that the United Nations has described as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. From there, Houthi rebels have fired missiles at both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, targeting oil infrastructure critical to their economies.
However, Saudi Arabia is engaged in direct negotiations with the Houthis, and an unofficial ceasefire appears to be in place.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdullahian welcomed the deal, saying Tehran would step up its diplomatic efforts in the region.
“The normalization of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia strengthens both countries, the region and the Muslim world,” Amir-Abdullahian tweeted on Friday.
Tehran increasingly isolates itself on the international stage. Talks with world powers to renew Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal have stalled and relations with the West have become increasingly strained by the Islamic Republic’s brutal crackdown on protests launched in September.
Iran’s main international ally, Russia, is preoccupied with a war in Ukraine, while its other ally, China, has recently courted Tehran’s arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia.
“For Saudi Arabia, reaching out to Iran is a key part of a larger diplomatic offensive on all fronts,” said Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “Just as Saudi Arabia normalizes relations with Iran, over time, there is a potential framework for normalization with Israel as well.”
“The fact that this was agreed in Beijing is very important for China and its rise as a diplomatic and strategic player in the Gulf region,” Ibisch said. “This appears to acknowledge China’s unique role in mediating relations between Tehran and Riyadh, stepping into a position previously held by European countries, if not the United States, which is not particularly favored by Washington.”
The reconciliation comes as China expands its diplomatic ties to the Arab world. In December, Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed 14 Arab leaders to a lavish ceremony in Riyadh as part of a trip that brought them together. That came just months after a relatively low-key meeting with US President Joe Biden, whose relationship with Saudi Arabia has been estranged.
“China’s role in the interim has been surprising and will demonstrate a bold diplomatic stance,” said Sanam Vakil, a senior fellow in the Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House think tank in London.
“But we have to be careful not to exaggerate Beijing’s intentions. It’s about China’s interests in the region. China has brought together two major players — regional and economic — with the aim of reducing regional tensions and facilitating greater economic engagement.”
Xiaofei Xu, Shawn Deng and Abbas Al Lawati contributed to this report.