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Iran’s Raisi welcomes invitation from king to visit Saudi Arabia

Iran’s president has received an invitation to visit Saudi Arabia following a reconciliation deal, an Iranian official says.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has received an invitation from King Salman of Saudi Arabia to visit the kingdom following the reconciliation deal between the two countries, an Iranian official said.

“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, tweeted, and added to this Sunday post that “Raisi welcomed the invitation”.

The two regional heavyweights announced a China-brokered deal on March 10 to restore ties seven years after they were severed.

Riyadh broke off relations after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in 2016 following the Saudi execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr — just one in a series of flashpoints between the two long-standing regional rivals.

The deal is expected to see Shiite Iran and mostly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia reopen their embassies and missions within two months and implement security and economic cooperation agreements signed more than 20 years ago.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told reporters on Sunday that the two countries had agreed to hold a meeting between their top diplomats.

He added that three locations for the talks had been suggested, without specifying where.

Al Jazeera’s Ali Hashem, reporting from Tehran, said Amir-Abdollahian stressed “that both countries are exchanging technical teams to inspect the embassies in Tehran and Riyadh and see if they are ready for both missions to be deployed there.”

“The Iranians suggested three locations for the meeting, according to Amir-Abdollahian. The exchange now took place through the Swiss embassy, ​​and not through the Chinese. This could indicate that there are different channels between the Iranians and Saudis at the moment,” Hashem said.

Tension between Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, and Iran, which is deeply at odds with Western governments over its nuclear activities, has the potential to strain relations in a region marked by turbulence for decades. to reshape.

Iran and Saudi Arabia support rivals in several conflict zones, including Yemen, where the Houthi rebels are aligning themselves with Tehran and where a government-supporting military coalition is led by Riyadh.

The two sides also vie for influence in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

A number of Gulf states followed Riyadh’s move in 2016 and cut ties with Tehran, although the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait recently restored ties.

Amir-Abdollahian said Iran also hoped steps would be taken to normalize ties with Bahrain, a close Saudi ally that followed Riyadh in cutting diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016.

In the past, Bahrain accused Iran of training and supporting a Shiite-led insurgency in the Sunni-ruled kingdom to overthrow Manama’s government. Tehran denies this.

“Two months ago, an agreement was reached for the Iranian and Bahraini technical delegations to visit the embassies of the two countries. We hope that some obstacles between Iran and Bahrain will be removed and we will take basic steps to reopen the embassies,” said Amir-Abdollahian.

There was no immediate response from Manama.

Bahrain, along with other Gulf Arab states, welcomed the agreement between Riyadh and Tehran to restore relations.

In September, Iran welcomed an ambassador from the Emirates after a six-year absence, and a month earlier it said Kuwait had sent its first ambassador to Tehran since 2016.

Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani also held talks with United Arab Emirates President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, another sign of shifting relations in the region.