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Saudi Arabia and Iran met in China to start thawing their fierce rivalry — a striking victory for Xi and a potential humiliation for the US

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Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang shake hands during a meeting in Beijing, China, April 6, 2023Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang shake hands during a meeting in Beijing, China, April 6, 2023

Iran’s Foreign Ministry/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via Reuters

  • Saudi Arabia and Iran’s foreign ministers held a historic meeting in Beijing on Thursday. 
  • The meeting further cemented a diplomatic breakthrough brokered earlier this year by China.
  • The move shows Beijing’s growing influence in the region, and how US influence could be waning.

The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran met in Beijing on Thursday, a further step in the China-brokered detente that saw both countries agree to resume diplomatic relations earlier this year. 

But as much as it boosts Chinese influence in the Middle East, the move is being closely watched as a potential challenge to the US’ own involvement, and a sign of its waning power in the region.

While China has maintained close ties with both countries, the US and Iran have not had diplomatic relations in decades. Relations between the US and Saudi Arabia have also been increasingly tense.

The meeting between Prince Faisal bin Farhan of Saudi Arabia and Hossein Amirabdollahian of Iran was the first of its kind since 2016.

Video showed their Chinese counterpart, Qin Gang, encouraging them to join hands. 

In a joint statement, the two representatives said that they discussed reopening flights and their respective diplomatic missions — a move brokered in March and seen as a boon to China’s international standing.

“The two sides emphasized the importance of following up on the implementation of the Beijing Agreement and its activation in a way that expands mutual trust and the fields of cooperation and helps create security, stability and prosperity in the region,” the statement said, per AFP

They also discussed visas, as well as a visit to Saudi Arabia by Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, per The Guardian

Embassies and consulates are to be reopened within two months, according to Reuters.

The US had cautiously welcomed the deal when it was announced in March, Voice of America reported

But some commentators see it as a sign of increasing US weakness in the region. Others have called for more forward diplomacy on the part of the US.

CIA director William Burns was in Saudi Arabia this week to discuss mutual intelligence cooperation and counterterrorism, Al-Arabiya reported.

Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran broke off seven years ago, when Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Arabian embassy in Iran in protest over the beheading of a prominent Saudi cleric, who as a Shia Muslim shared religious leanings with the majority of Iranians.

The two countries are also opposed in several regional power struggles, including conflicts in Yemen and Syria, as well as vying for influence over Lebanon.

Gregory Gause, a Saudi Arabia expert at Texas A&M university, told NPR last month that “the essentials of the rivalry are still there,” noting that there still was not a settlement in the two countries’ proxy war in Yemen. 

“To me, the real signal of a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement will be a settlement,” he said. “If the Chinese could do that, then, you know, Nobel Prizes all around.”

NPR noted Gause is affiliated with a think tank that received Saudi funding. 

Read the original article on Business Insider
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