This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, during a rare visit to bitter rival Iran, stressed the importance of “security cooperation” in the region to ensure the Persian Gulf is free of weapons of mass destruction and to maintain maritime safety in crucial trade routes.
“I would like to refer to the importance of cooperation between the two countries on regional security, especially the security of maritime navigation…and the importance of cooperation among all regional countries to ensure that it is free of weapons of mass destruction,” Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told reporters in Tehran on June 18.
The arrival represents the first trip to Iran by a Saudi foreign minister in 17 years.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry posted a video of the Saudi diplomat being greeted by his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
Sunni Muslim-led Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite-majority Iran have battled for influence in the region for decades, including in what has been called a proxy war in Yemen, fought between competing sides supported by Riyadh and Tehran.
Riyadh has often accused Tehran of attempting to undermine Sunni-led countries in the region and has accused Iran of attacking merchant ships in the waters of the Persian Gulf.
Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of inciting protests and violence against Shi’a communities in the region.
Riyadh severed relations with Tehran after protesters in 2016 stormed and ransacked the Saudi missions in Tehran and Mashhad after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shi’ite cleric who had criticized the kingdom’s treatment of its Shi’ite minority.
But the sides have attempted to mend relations in recent months. In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reestablish relations in a China-mediated deal.
In early June, Iran reopened its embassy in Riyadh, while Saudi Arabia is expected to reopen its diplomatic mission in Tehran “soon,” Prince Faisal said.
Amir-Abdollahian stressed the importance of Iranian security, but he added that “Iran has never equated security with militarism but sees it as a broad concept including political, cultural, social, economic, and trade aspects.”
Prince Faisal is also scheduled to meet with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and hand the Iranian leader an invitation to visit Saudi Arabia in the future.
Iran has been accused by the West of fomenting extremist activity in the region and of attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, charges Tehran has denied.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s close relations with the United States have soured following several incidents, including the gruesome murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed by Saudi agents inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.