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Iran Appoints New Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Aiming to Restore Bilateral Relations

By Nigar Bayramli May 24, 2023

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Alireza Enayati, the director of the Persian Gulf Department at Iran's Foreign Ministry, was appointed as Iran's new envoy to Saudi Arabia. He has earlier served as Iran's ambassador to Kuwait. / MEHR News Agency

Iran has appointed its new ambassador to Saudi Arabia as part of the two countries’ efforts to restore bilateral relations after seven years.

According to Iran’s Mehr news agency, Alireza Enayati, the director of the Persian Gulf Department at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, has been appointed as Iran’s new envoy to the kingdom. Enayati previously served as Iran’s ambassador to Kuwait and was recently tasked with supervising the work of the Iranian delegation responsible for reopening Iran’s missions in Saudi Arabia.

After years of hostility that fueled conflicts across the Middle East, Tehran and Riyadh agreed to end their diplomatic rift and re-open embassies in a trilateral deal facilitated by China on March 10.

The two countries emphasized “respect for sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs” in accordance with a previous security cooperation agreement signed in April 2001. This agreement was mentioned in the trilateral statement signed between officials of Iran, Saudi Arabia and China.

In a joint statement signed by Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in Beijing on April 6, the two countries agreed to resume flights and bilateral visits after seven years.

The statement reiterated points previously made in the March announcement, stating that both sides would reopen embassies and consulates “at an agreed time” and send technical delegations to restart direct flights and facilitate visas, including for Iranians wanting to perform the Umrah pilgrimage.

On May 11, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian announced that Saudi Arabia had submitted the identity of its new ambassador to Tehran, but he did not reveal the appointee’s identity. He added that the Saudis made the appointment on May 9 and stated, “we too will soon appoint our new ambassador to the Saudi state.”

The politically isolated Iran, which has been heavily affected by US sanctions, considers the revival of ties with Riyadh as a significant victory and a defeat for the United States in the region.

Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran in January 2016 after its embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad were attacked by protesters angered by the execution of top Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in the Sunni-majority kingdom. The kingdom then asked Iranian diplomats to leave the country within 48 hours while evacuating its embassy staff from Tehran.

Iran supports the Lebanese Hezbollah group and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, against whom Saudi Arabia has led a military campaign since March 2015. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of arming the Houthis, who have carried out missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities and oil facilities.

Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for a 2019 missile and drone assault on its oil plants, a charge that Tehran denies. The two countries have been locked in a rivalry for decades, backing allies engaged in proxy wars across the region.