Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman accepts invitation to Iran

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman accepts invitation to Iran
Saudi Arabia's crown prince is allegedly heading to Iran for meetings in a first of its kind event. / bne IntelliNews
By bnm Tehran & Gulf bureaus May 25, 2024

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has agreed to an invitation to visit Iran following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, reported on May 24

This marks the first potential visit by a Saudi royal to Tehran in over two decades, signalling another step towards warming following an agreement between the two countries backed and negotiated by China and the reopening of their respective embassies in Tehran and Riyadh following a year of détente between the two governments.

The visit was agreed upon after Mohammed bin Salman responded positively to an invitation from Mohammad Mokhber, Iran's acting President.

During a call between Mokhber and Mohammad bin Salam, the Crown Prince expressed his condolences over the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and their companions. In his temporary role, the acting president stressed the necessity for the two neighbouring countries to strengthen ties and support the expansion of relations between their private sectors amid ongoing conflicts, including the Israel-Palestine conflict.

President Raisi had initially invited Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to visit Iran in November 2023. Following restoring diplomatic ties under the now-dead president, Iran and Saudi Arabia have progressively improved their bilateral relations by initiating direct flights and strengthening financial connections.

There has been significant interest from the Iranian private sector in entering the Saudi market and an opening to Iranian Hajj pilgrimage to the Kingdom that was previously significantly cut down.

On April 30, Mohsen Karimi, Deputy for International Affairs of Iran’s Central Bank, expressed optimism about forthcoming developments in accessing the bank's resources.

"We engaged in discussions with representatives from several central banks and international organisations," Karimi stated. He also highlighted the successful transfer of resources from blocked accounts to banks in Saudi Arabia, designated for Hajj expenses.

"Our ultimate goal is to establish a sustainable channel for transactions with Saudi banks," he added.

Tensions continue to remain between Tehran and Riyadh over areas of the Gulf region, including ownership of the Arash/Dorra oil and gas fields. Riyadh and Kuwait have said that the fields are under their exclusive economic zones, but Iran objected, claiming it fell under its marine territory.

Talks between the two and such a high-profile visit also come at a time of heightened regional tensions, including the Israel-Palestine conflict. Reports previously noted that Tel Aviv was working towards a deal with Saudi Arabia as part of the Trump-era “Abraham Accords” which effectively stopped when Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7.

Saudi Arabia has latterly indicated it would not have a grand bargain with Israel and the US until an adequate situation is found for the Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia cut relations with Iran in 2016 following its diplomatic compounds in Tehran and Mashhad being attacked by Iranian far-right religious groups, at the time described by local media as “students,” following Riyadh’s execution of a Shi’ite cleric. Tensions have worsened over the past decade due to Iran’s alleged support for Houthi forces effectively in control of Yemen's capital, Sana’a, and Iranian forces threatening and seizing tankers in the Persian Gulf.