Will Raisi’s passing have an impact on Saudi-Iranian relations?

Will Raisi’s passing have an impact on Saudi-Iranian relations?

On May 19, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing deep concern over media reports regarding the helicopter crash involving Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his accompanying delegation.

The statement emphasized that “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands with the sisterly Islamic Republic of Iran during these difficult times,” and expressed its “readiness to provide any assistance needed by the Iranian authorities.”

Upon confirmation of the tragic demise of Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent cables of condolence to Acting President Mohammed Mokhber.

Simultaneously, Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed bin Abdulkarim Al-Khuraiji visited the Iranian Embassy in Riyadh to offer condolences for the death of President Raisi.

The Saudi government took further steps by dispatching a delegation to Tehran, including Prince Mansour bin Miteb bin Abdulaziz, adviser to King Salman and minister of state, and Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan. They were joined by Saudi Ambassador to Tehran Abdullah Al-Anazi. The delegation met with Acting Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani and paid their respects to the victims of the helicopter crash.

Further emphasizing its diplomatic outreach, the crown prince personally called Mokhber on May 24. He expressed his condolences and highlighted “the progress made in bilateral relations between the two countries,” stressing the “importance of continuing to enhance cooperation in various areas.”

Saudi Arabia’s gestures reflect a commitment to the political and security stability of the Islamic Republic

Hassan Al-Mustafa

While some might view these actions as merely ceremonial, they convey a clear political message. Saudi Arabia’s gestures reflect a desire to develop positive relations with Iran and a commitment to the political and security stability of the Islamic Republic.

Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran in January 2016 after Iranian extremists attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad. This led to a period of heightened tensions, negatively impacting regional peace, especially with Iran’s external proxies in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon targeting Saudi security and causing damage to economic, civilian and military installations. Riyadh responded firmly yet cautiously, aiming to avoid escalation while protecting its national interests.

Over the years, Iran found itself increasingly isolated regionally, with strained relations in the Gulf and a deteriorating economic situation. Realizing that hostility toward Saudi Arabia was detrimental, Tehran pursued a new approach based on reconciliation and overcoming past animosities.

Saudi Arabia’s strategy of dialogue and de-escalation culminated in a landmark agreement in March 2023, brokered by China, to restore diplomatic relations. The joint statement read: “The three countries announce that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have reached an agreement to resume diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies and missions within two months.”

Iran appointed Mohammed Reza Nouri Shahroudi as its ambassador to Riyadh, while Al-Anazi became Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Tehran.

In recent months, both ambassadors have engaged in various visits and activities in their respective capitals, practicing cautious yet active public diplomacy, signaling a mutual desire to strengthen ties without overstepping established boundaries.

Realizing that hostility toward Saudi Arabia was detrimental, Tehran pursued a new approach based on reconciliation

Hassan Al-Mustafa

Although progress might seem slow to some, this is a natural pace after years of distrust and Iran’s support for armed proxies that attacked Saudi Arabia and incited against it, both militarily and in the media.

Observers note that the “agreement” is built on a solid security foundation with security negotiations forming the basis. Saudi Arabia sought assurances from Iran on several key points: noninterference in internal affairs, respect for sovereignty, cessation of support for and training of armed opposition groups, and not using pro-Iranian armed militias to attack the Kingdom from Iraq and Yemen. Additionally, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was to cease supporting cells that conduct sabotage operations within Saudi Arabia.

So far, in the security arena, Iran appears to be complying and a key element is solidifying the previously known “Nayef-Rouhani Agreement,” named after then-Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz and former Iranian National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rouhani.

This security agreement is a cornerstone of bilateral relations, which are unlikely to face negative changes following the deaths of President Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian. The principal outlines of Iran’s foreign policy are set by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who also oversees their implementation. In the current context, Khamenei is unlikely to allow hard-liners to disrupt relations with Riyadh, as Tehran seeks to end its regional and international isolation, improve its image and alleviate economic difficulties.

Our Correspondent

Our Correspondent

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *