Saudi Foreign Minister in Iran as Part of Restoration of Diplomatic Ties After a 7-Year Rift

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's foreign minister arrived in Iran's capital on Saturday, the latest step in the restoration of diplomatic ties between the two Mideast rivals, Iranian state media reported.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan was officially welcomed by his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian, Iran TV said. He carried a message from the Saudi king to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the two were due to meet later Saturday, Iran TV said.

Later, Prince Faisal said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman officially invited Raisi to visit Saudi Arabia, according to the state TV broadcast of a joint news conference.

The visit comes after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Saudi Arabia earlier in June. In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies after seven years of tensions. The move sent shock waves through the Middle East, especially Israel, Iran's arch-enemy.

Prince Faisal was expected to officially inaugurate the kingdom's embassy in Tehran later Saturday. Until the mission is completed, employees were working from a Tehran hotel, Iran TV said.

Both nations reopened their diplomatic missions in recent weeks.

The agreement to reestablish diplomatic relations was a major breakthrough brokered by China that lowered the chances of further conflict between Riyadh and Tehran -- both directly and in proxy conflicts around the region.

Soon after exploding in 2014, Yemen's conflict turned into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, which led a military coalition backing Yemen's internationally recognized government, and Iran, which has aided the country's Houthi rebels.

Iran has been blamed for a series of attacks in recent years following the United States' unilateral withdrawal from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in 2018. One of those targeted the heart of Saudi Arabia's oil industry in 2019, temporarily halving the kingdom's crude production.

Relations between the predominately Shiite Iran and the majority Sunni Saudi Arabia have long been tense. The kingdom broke ties with Iran in 2016 after protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic posts there. Saudi Arabia had executed a prominent Shiite cleric along with 46 others days earlier, triggering the demonstrations.

Amirabdollahian said at a joint news conference that the two sides discussed cooperating on regional security and other topics. "We voiced our concern about the continuation of war in Sudan and discussed some regional and international topics of interest," he said.

Raisi, in a meeting with Farhan the Saudi foreign minister, welcomed the establishment of relations between Tehran and Riyadh, according to the president's website. He said the only enemy of Muslims is the "Zionist regime," referring to Israel.

Israel and Iran are archenemies and Raisi said the normalization of relations with Israel by some countries is not only a security issue but also against the Islamic community's wishes.

One of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's greatest foreign policy triumphs remains Israel's U.S.-brokered normalization deals in 2020 with four Arab states, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. They were part of a wider push to isolate Iran in the region.