After striking their historic peace deal which was mediated by China in Beijing over a week ago, Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to make strikes toward full normalization of ties, after being archenemies for decades - and before that their peoples having been rivals for centuries when it comes to the religious Shia-Sunni divide.
An Iranian official has announced Sunday that the King of Saudi Arabia has issued a formal invitation to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to visit Riyadh in an unprecedented move. Raisi is said to have "welcomed" the invite from King Salman. Now what remains is setting a date.
"In a letter to President Raisi... the King of Saudi Arabia welcomed the deal between the two brotherly countries, [and] invited him to Riyadh," Mohammad Jamshidi, the Iranian president's deputy chief of staff for political affairs, said on Twitter.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the upcoming meeting. Additionally FM Hossein Amirabdollahian said that "An agreement was reached two months ago for Iranian and Bahraini technical delegations to visit the embassies of the two countries."
He added, "We hope that some obstacles between Iran and Bahrain will be removed and we will take basic steps to reopen the embassies."
Such an official head of state visit hasn't taken place in over 20 years, with the last Iranian president to visit the kingdom being President Mohammad Khatami in February 1998. That visit in the late 90's was the first trip by an Iranian president to Saudi Arabia since the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution.
Last week, Henry Kissinger was cited in The Washington Post as calling the Saudi-Iran diplomatic breakthrough "a substantial change in the strategic situation in the Middle East." According to more of the well-known former Secretary of State's commentary:
The Saudis, who have been among Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East for decades, "are now balancing their security by playing off the US against China," he explained.
According to Kissinger, Riyadh’s actions are comparable to what he himself accomplished in the early 1970s when, as secretary of state in the Nixon administration, he helped achieve rapprochement with Beijing amid its tensions with Moscow.
This could also eventually usher in a new era of hoped-for regional stability. Not only has the regional rivalry, which intensified most during the decade of the proxy war in Syria which began in 2011, been set amid a centuries-long divide over correct interpretation of Islam (Shia Iran vs. Sunni Saudi Arabia), but it has also spilled over in places like Yemen, scene of another grinding proxy war which pit Shia rebels against a Saudi-backed government.
The Saudis and Iranians also clash in supporting rival political factions inside Lebanon, with Tehran being the Shia paramilitary group Hezbollah's biggest backer. For these reasons, accusations of supporting terrorism have been frequently hurled back-and-forth over the years. Iranian state media, for example, has long charged the Saudis with being a prime covert backer of the Islamic State (ISIS) in their drive to overthrow President Assad in Syria.
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An Iranian official announced on Sunday that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz has issued a formal invitation to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to visit Riyadh. Raisi is said to have &amp;quot;welcomed&amp;quot; the invite from King Salman. Now what remains is setting a date. It will be the first visit by an Iranian President to Riyadh since former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s visit in February 1998.
The Saudi King’s invitation coming after the diplomatic deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Beijing signals a sea change in global strategic and geopolitical situations particularly in the Gulf region.
1- Regionally, It signals the end to the United States’ playing off Iran and Saudi Arabia against each other dating back to the Shah’s days aimed at keeping tension between the two Gulf rivals, selling American weapons to Saudi Arabia and demanding protection money from the Saudis for supposedly protecting them and their oil from Iran in a mafia-like fashion.
2- It is equally a sign of Saudi Arabia acknowledging that the World Order is already transforming from a unipolar system led by the United States into a multipolar one being ushered in by the Chinese-Russian strategic alliance and also distancing itself further from the United States’ camp.
3- It will reduce tension between Iran on the one hand and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries on the other thus improving security in the Gulf region.
4- It could pave the way for an end to the war in Yemen probably ending the Yemeni rebels, the Houthis, targeting Saudi oil installations.
5- It could impact positively on other conflicts in the Gulf such as the one between Iran and UAE over the occupied Tanab Islands close to the Strait of Hormuz and also in the Middle East such as bringing the civil war in Syria to its final conclusion with both Iran and Saudi Arabia exerting pressure on Turkey to reach some accommodation with Bashar Al-Assad.
Furthermore, it could help ease the dire economic situation in Lebanon.
6- Strategically, it acknowledges the rise of China to the pinnacle of global geopolitical influence and also ascendency in the Gulf region which has been in the past the reserve of the United States.
If by inviting the Iranian president, Henry Kissinger believes that the Saudis are now balancing their security by playing off the US against China thus emulating his old policy of rapprochement with Beijing amid its tensions with Moscow, he should be pleased that they learned something positive for once from the old manipulator.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Global Energy Expert