By Mehran Shamsuddin

Raisi expected to visit Saudi Arabia

April 3, 2023 - 20:46

TEHRAN – The Iranian-Saudi normalization train is moving so fast that it could soon take Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Saudi Arabia.

Iran's First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber said Monday that President Raisi has accepted an invitation from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz to pay a visit to Saudi Arabia. 

“King Salman has invited the president, and there has been a positive response to this invitation, and hopefully good things will happen,” Mokhber said. 

“The main strategies of Mr. Raisi since the first day he was elected as the president have been to improve relations with the countries of the region,” he added.

Iran’s affirmative answer to the Saudi invitation is the latest in the fast-paced normalization trend that started on March 10, when Iran and Saudi Arabia signed a Chinese-brokered deal in Beijing to restore their relations in a period of two months. According to the joint statement put out by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China, “The three countries announce that an agreement has been reached between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, that includes an agreement to resume diplomatic relations between them and re-open their embassies and missions within a period not exceeding two months, and the agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs of states.”

The statement added, “They also agreed that the ministers of foreign affairs of both countries shall meet to implement this, arrange for the return of their ambassadors, and discuss means of enhancing bilateral relations.”

Since then, Iranian and Saudi officials have been in close contact to follow up on the Beijing agreement. A little more than a week after the March 10 agreement, the Saudi king sent a letter to President Raisi in which he welcomed the agreement and invited Raisi to visit Riyadh. He also called for strong economic and regional cooperation. In response, Raisi welcome the invitation and stressed Iran’s readiness to expand cooperation.

Also, the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia spoke by phone more than once to hash out the details of the agreement. Their latest call was on Sunday. In this telephone conversation, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan discussed arrangements for their agreed-upon meeting. 

Amir Abdollahian expressed pleasure with the positive trend of ties between Tehran and Riyadh and underlined the Islamic Republic’s resolve to expand its policy of neighborliness. During the phone conversation, the two top diplomats also discussed the latest state of the Iran-Saudi Arabia agreement and their upcoming meeting.

Bin Farhan stressed the need for Iranian and Saudi officials to keep in touch and described the current measures of the two sides as positive and satisfactory. Amir Abdollahian and bin Farhan agreed to meet each other in the coming days.

The pace of Iranian-Saudi rapprochement is quite fast with the two countries moving from tension to normalization in a matter of few weeks.

Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016 after its diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad were stormed by angry Iranian protestors in the wake of the Saudi execution of a Shiite cleric. Since April 2021, Tehran and Riyadh have been engaged in negotiations facilitated by Iraq and Oman to patch up their ties. These talks culminated in the Chinese-brokered deal.

Although Saudi Arabia and Iran have been engaged in security-oriented talks, the improvement in their relations is stretching beyond the security and diplomatic spheres. A board member of the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture said that a joint chamber of commerce will be established between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Pointing out that the private sector has started the necessary planning for economic interaction with Saudi Arabia, Keyvan Kashefi said, “Soon, with the follow-up of the ICCIMA, a joint chamber of commerce between Iran and Saudi Arabia will be set up.”

He called the normalization of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia the main political and economic issue of the country in the last month and said the private sector welcomes this constructive and positive interaction.

Underlining that Iran and Saudi Arabia are two big and important countries in the region, Kashefi said political and economic cooperation between the two countries is the basis for stability in the region.

“Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the region with which we do not have a joint chamber of commerce, the official said, adding, "With the follow-up of the Iran Chamber, a joint chamber of commerce between the two countries will soon be established, and it will be a useful step to advance the economic goals of Iran and Saudi Arabia."

“Also, we plan to start the exchange of trade delegations immediately after the reopening of the embassies and the deployment of the ambassadors of the two countries”, he added.

According to Kashfi, there are many fields, including oil, gas, petrochemicals, and knowledge-based, for cooperation between the two countries, and these capacities should be used.

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