Talks in China between Iran and Saudi Arabia Friday concluded with the two countries agreeing to re-establish diplomatic relations. In a statement, the two nations expressed their desire to “resolve the disagreements between them through dialogue and diplomacy.” The main goal in the re-opening of relations is to “enhanc[e]regional and international peace and security.” Under the agreement, the re-opening of embassies and return of ambassadors are required to be completed within two months.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries broke down in 2016 when Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite Muslim cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Saudi officials sentenced al-Nimr to death for alleged participation in the 2011 Arab Spring Movement. However, critics claimed the trial was flawed and used as a cover to remove Shiite influence within the majority Sunni kingdom. Protestors in Iran–a majority Shiite country–stormed and burned the Saudi embassy in Tehran. The embassy was closed thereafter.
Since 2016, the two countries have been engaged in a struggle for regional dominance. The two countries are engaged in a proxy-war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia supports the central government, while Iran backs the Houthi rebels. A similar situation took place during the start of the Syrian Civil War when Saudi Arabia supported rebel groups and Iran backed the Bashar al-Assad government. Additionally, the two countries aligned themselves with different major powers. Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the US, and Iran has developed closer ties with China and Russia.