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Saudi Arabia invites Iranian president to visit in latest sign of rapprochement

Saudi Arabia has invited Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi for an official visit, according to its foreign minister, in the latest sign of a rapprochement between the regional rivals who have agreed to restore diplomatic relations and ease longstanding tensions.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Saturday became the first senior Saudi official to visit Tehran in about two decades.

Relations between the two countries should be based on “mutual respect”, “non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs”, “heeding security of shipping corridors as well as non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”, he said at a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart.

He added that he would later meet Raisi to convey greetings from Saudi’s King Salman and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, and pass on their invitation to visit Riyadh.

“We hope that the restoration of ties will have positive impacts on the two countries, the region and the whole Islamic world,” he said, according to a translation published in Persian.

Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said at the press conference that Saturday’s talks had focused on “sustainable economic co-operation” and joint ventures, notably by the two countries’ private sectors.

“For the Islamic republic, security does not equal militarisation . . . but it includes political, economic and trade ties between regional countries,” he said.

Saudi Arabia and Iran — which are respectively dominated by Sunni and Shia Muslims — agreed to restore diplomatic ties in March, in a landmark agreement signed in China. The move put an end to a seven-year rift which had stoked tensions in the Islamic world.

While the two states are yet to appoint ambassadors, Iran reopened its embassy in Riyadh earlier this month; Saudi diplomats are currently based in a hotel in northwestern Tehran. The Saudi embassy was damaged after it was stormed by hardline groups in 2016 in protest against the execution of a dissident Shia cleric. After that incident, Riyadh severed ties with Tehran.

The improvement in relations has raised hopes that it could help end the Yemen war, which was launched by a Saudi-led coalition in 2015 after Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized much of the country. Saudi Arabia accused Iran of backing the rebels and targeting it and its coalition partner the UAE with drone and missile strikes.

Iran has also recently defused tensions with the UAE, which agreed last year to reappoint its ambassador to Tehran.

“Iran wants to resolve its regional issues to increase efficiency of the political system and address its economic problems,” said one regime figure with knowledge of the government’s thinking.

“Mohammed bin Salman — with his long-term development plans — needed the agreement [with Iran] not to have Houthis’ missiles every day. He is even thinking of paving the way for Saudi investments in Iran. This also benefits us,” the person said. “Both Iran and Saudi Arabia twisted each other’s ears [but] now it’s time for co-operation.”

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