Photo’s source:, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman



During the past six decades, the relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been accompanied by various fluctuations, while diplomatic relations have been broken several times[1] (in 1942 and twice after the Islamic Revolution of 1979).

In 2016, after Saudi Arabia executed Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran. Riyadh responded by cutting ties with Tehran. Relations were completely severed seven years ago. But in recent years, Riyadh extended a hand of friendship to Iran that was welcomed by Tehran.[2] Iran also paid attention to the preparation for compromise negotiations at a higher level. Therefore, in 2022, negotiations to reduce tensions began through the mediation of Iraq and Oman.

The March 6 to 10, 2023 negotiations between Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran’ Supreme National Security Council, and Mosaed bin Mohammad Al-Aiban, Saudi Arabia’s National Security Adviser in Beijing, led to the release of a tripartite statement[3] (China, Iran and Saudi Arabia) on the resumption of relations and opening of the two sides representative offices, up to a maximum of two months.

I. Opportunities

Regional interests

After taking office in 2021, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi announced his “neighbors first policy” to activate regional diplomacy and strengthen relations with regional countries.

The reduction of tension with Riyadh has reduced the tendency of Saudi Arabia to take anti-Iranian positions, pursuing projects such as Arab NATO and the spread of “Iranophobia”, and has had a positive effect on the nuclear negotiations.

In the summer of 2023, Saudi Arabia and Iran reopened their embassies[4]. With the opening of embassies and consulates, and the official visits of ministers and officials, the process of enhancing relations is increasing.

The re-establishment of diplomatic relations provided both sides with the possibility of direct interaction and the possibility of reducing tensions.

Over the past year, there has been a significant change in the tone of the official and semi-official media of the two countries.

Previously, with the severing of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, some regional countries[5] reduced their diplomatic relations with Tehran. However, the normalization of relations has become an opportunity to expand multilateral cooperative relations between the allies of the two sides and has led to the re-opening of Iran’s relations with Sudan, Iran-Egypt talks, the establishment of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Armenia,[6] and the reduction of Riyadh’s tension with Damascus, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Ansarullah.

For example, the reduction of tension between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia has reduced the threat to the national security of Saudi Arabia, negotiations for a permanent ceasefire in Yemen, etc.

Iran and Saudi Arabia still do not recognize Israel. The normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran has convinced Riyadh to abandon the idea of Abraham Accords and cooperate more in the field of Palestine.

Also, the Gaza war showed the efficiency and strategic flexibility of de-escalation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and besides the meetings of officials[7] and assurance of previous agreements, Riyadh was not the target of the actions of Iran’s allies.

Moreover, the positions of the two countries regarding further punitive measures against Israel,[8] the immediate cessation of military operations in the Gaza Strip and opposition to the forced resettlement of Palestinians and the right of the Palestinian people to establish a state and determine their own destiny were more coordinated.

The normalization of relations has implicitly meant creating a kind of balance between regional powers and recognizing each other’s influence in the region.

Tehran has also pursued goals, such as preventing hostile actions supported by Saudi Arabia; preventing the development of the Abraham Accords; removing Iran from the position of the enemy of the Arabs; and preventing Saudi Arabia from supporting separatist groups and other opponents of Iran.

Tehran has focused on taking advantage of mutual capacities in developing and strengthening regional cooperation and solving regional and Islamic world issues.[9]

Additionally, the normalization of relations has promoted Iran’s position in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden increased Iran’s influence in the Bab al Mandeb strait.

Geopolitical interests

Saudi Arabia’s international policy is slowly moving from a policy based on special relations with America to a policy of positive balancing among world powers.

With the reduction of America’s role in the Middle East in recent years, the normalization of relations with Iran is an important help to Riyadh in continuing to change the direction of Saudi Arabia’s leadership in the Saudi 2030 vision, and moving in a multipolar world order, establishing balanced relations with other world powers and participating in BRICS.

For Tehran, the normalization of supporting relations is to distance Riyadh from “Arab NATO” and alliance with Israel, reduce the US presence in the Middle East and strengthen Iran’s geopolitical position in the region and the world.

Cultural and sports opportunities

The normalization of relations between Tehran and Riyadh has various effects on the reduction of tensions in areas such as, identity, ideological, media and soft power and has led to more cooperation in areas such as religious, meeting of cultural officials, the possibility of exchanging permanent cultural representatives in embassies, the possibility of inviting the Saudi Minister of Culture to visit Iran. Moreover, there are made efforts to reduce the problems of Hajj[10], establishing airlines corridors, conducting sports competitions, etc.

Security and defense opportunities

The activation of the security cooperation agreement between Riyadh and Tehran, approved in 2011,[11] will be useful in preventing drug trafficking, crime and terrorism control and even establishing a collective security system in the region.

With the meeting of the military officials of the two sides last year and the improvement of military relations,[12] the presence of the Iranian military delegation at the Riyadh Defense Equipment Exhibition (EDEX)[13]– a platform for cooperation in the field of weapons- shows a better understanding of Iran’s defense and security capabilities. There is a possible plan to form a regional naval alliance, a common security system, and even nuclear cooperation.

Economic and energy benefits

Iran and Saudi Arabia are two countries with huge gas reserves and about 37%[14] of the world’s oil reserves. Strengthening Iranian-Saudi cooperation and cooperation in OPEC and OPEC+ in accessing common interests, increasing cooperation in the energy sector, renewable energy,[15] infrastructure development, equipment manufacturing, and petrochemicals can be expanded.

The Saudi companies have an extensive ability to invest in the energy sector (Iranian oil and gas, petrochemical and electricity industry).

The normalization of relations for Iran is effective in reducing the impact of sanctions with access to Arab financial resources, overcoming difficult economic conditions and restoring the previous trade agreement.

Moreover, strengthening relations will increase trade, investment, transit, direct flights, tourism (religious, hajj, medical and recreational) diversify the national income and help the cooperation in food security.

Strengthening multilateral cooperation in the field of logistics and transportation, such as China’s One-Belt, One-Road initiative and the North-South Corridor (INSTC) Riyadh’s access to the Central Asian economies and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) through Iran, the plan to connect Saudi Arabia to Iran Rail line from Kuwait and Iraq, and Iran’s easier access to Africa through Saudi Arabia bring benefits for both sides.

Also, there are more opportunities for exporting, issuing engineering services, cooperation in the field of industrial cooperation; technology, nano, drug production; automobile manufacturing; food processing;[16] There can be a boost in tourism activities as well.

In the last one year, discussions about economic and commercial cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia in various fields and services, joint trade committee, removal of trade barriers, activation of the chamber of commerce of both sides, cooperation of the private sector, etc. have been put on the agenda and the volume of trade is expected to increase significantly in 2024.[17]

II. Challenges

Differences in several levels of identity and “ideological, strategic and geopolitical” trends, etc. are part of the challenges of the relations between the two countries.

Still, Saudi Arabia and Iran have a fierce geopolitical rivalry, and the main basis of Sunni-Shia difference has also complicated regional politics. There is still no major progress in Yemen, and the resumption of war could jeopardize reconciliation.

The renewal of Saudi relations with Iran means entering from the stage of armed war to the stage of armed peace.

Also, conflicting interests in regional crises and spheres, the possibility of normalizing Saudi relations with Tel Aviv, the Saudi military pact with America, a peaceful nuclear program and more advanced weapons[18] can be challenges for the future of Riyadh’s relations with Tehran.

In addition to Saudi Arabia’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ claim on three Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf, disputes over the disarmament of Hamas and the administration of the Palestinian state continue. The long-standing dispute over the Arash or Dorra gas field has resurfaced.

Western sanctions have made proper investment by Saudi Arabia in Iran in the near future impossible. Some banking obstacles, legal and operational ambiguities are serious obstacles in promoting economic relations between the two countries.

Official data shows that trade remains at a very low level. The two countries still need other detailed documents, support for investments[19], economic road map, creation of special economic zones, strengthening of commercial relations of private sectors, holding conferences and trade exhibitions, creation of free trade zones, negotiations on free and preferential trade agreements between Iran-GCC, etc.

III. Prospects

The first meeting of the tripartite committee of Iran, China and Saudi Arabia ended in Beijing in December 2023, and the next meeting will be held in Saudi Arabia in June 2024.[20]

In fact, the normalization of relations has helped to maintain a moderate form of stability and has brought significant results for both sides. However, it is very important to focus on common points and avoid highlighting differences, develop cooperation and joint economic investments to protect the interests of the parties.

In the meantime, we cannot expect big results in the short term. But the opportunities are wide and there is no permanent enemy in foreign policy.

Tehran and Riyadh are still suspicious of each other. Surely, the relations will develop more with mutual understanding between the governments in the near future.

Therefore, it seems that among several scenarios for the perspective of Iranian-Saudi relative, the relative management of competition without returning to severe tensions is the most likely scenario.























Disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of MEPEI. Any content provided by our authors is of their opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author:

Farzad Ramezani Bonesh

Dr. Farzad Ramezani Bonesh is a writer, senior researcher, and analyst focusing on the Middle East and South Asia. He has written research articles, short analyses, and journalistic pieces in both Persian and English. He has also appeared on international outlets such as Al-Jazeera, RT, and Al-Araby among many others.

Post a comment