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New chapter in diplomacy

The new trend in Iranian diplomacy appears to have started with the significant agreement Tehran reached with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Earlier this month, tensions between Iran and the West over nuclear issues were on the way to a boiling point, with several diplomatic circles in the West pushing for a censure against Iran in the latest meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors.

A long-awaited visit by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi not only eliminated calls for the censure but also defused Iran-West tensions to a large extent as Iran and the IAEA agreed to a roadmap for addressing a set of thorny issues that have long weighed on Iran-IAEA relations. Although the European troika – Germany, France, and the UK – has not changed course on Iran at least rhetorically, the overall situation is less tense than in the past. 

The Iran-IAEA agreement is now complemented by a regional thaw that seemed unlikely only a few days ago. On Friday, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China dropped a bombshell that is expected to have a seismic effect on many issues in the region. 

After seven years of diplomatic boycott, Tehran and Riyadh agreed to resume diplomatic relations in a deal brokered by China. 

According to the joint statement put out by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China, “The three countries announce that an agreement has been reached between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, that includes an agreement to resume diplomatic relations between them and re-open their embassies and missions within a period not exceeding two months, and the agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs of states.”

The statement added, “They also agreed that the ministers of foreign affairs of both countries shall meet to implement this, arrange for the return of their ambassadors, and discuss means of enhancing bilateral relations.”

Almost all countries of the West Asia and North Africa region welcomed the deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian received a considerable number of calls from foreign officials congratulating him on the development. Also, the countries of the region issued statements welcoming the Iran-Saudi thaw.

A day after the deal, an Iranian parliamentary delegation travelled to Bahrain, which also cut ties with Iran in 2016 in solidarity with Saudi Arabia. The apparent reason was to participate in in international parliamentary gathering in Manama. But the meeting that took place between Iranian and Bahraini delegations on the sidelines of this gathering was surely facilitated by the overall reconciliation push in the region. 

The Iranian delegation met late on Saturday with the Speaker of Bahrain’s Parliament, Ahamed al-Moslem.

The Iranian delegation was led by Iranian lawmaker Mojtaba Rezakhah. 

The two sides discussed ways of cooperation and coordination in international parliamentary forums. 

The meeting between the two sides, which have cut diplomatic relations since 2016, came on the sidelines of the 146th meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Manama, according to the Bahrain News Agency.

The meeting between the two sides comes after Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed on Friday to resume diplomatic relations within two months

Rezakhah and his delegation also met with an Emirati parliamentary delegation in Bahrain. The Emirati delegation was led by Rashed al-Nuaimi, the head of the UAE parliament’s Defense and foreign policy committee.

 At the beginning of the meeting, Rezakhah welcomed the country’s proposal to exchange business delegations and expand parliamentary relations, referring to the political and economic relations between the two countries in the past decade and the creation of facilities for Iranians living in the UAE.

He added, “The Islamic Republic of Iran always has a positive approach in cooperation with regional countries and welcomes the UAE’s proposal to expand the level of parliamentary relations and exchange delegations.”

Rezakhah noted, “The unity between the nations of the two countries should be more than in the past so that the common enemies do not exploit.”

Al-Nuaimi, for his part, emphasized the impact of the bilateral relations between the two countries on the regional economy and called for the expansion of the relations between the two countries at different governmental and parliamentary levels.

He added, “We are not only looking for the return of the level of trade relations between us but also to increase it to 80 billion dollars a year.”

The UAE official said, “The UAE is committed to providing and respecting the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran in all areas and is moving in this specific direction.”

He also suggested that a trade delegation between the two countries should work to achieve economic goals.

Thaw in Iran-Arab relations comes after the historic deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore their relations.

In continuation of Iran’s diplomatic outreach, Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani arrived in Muscat two days after the Iran-Saudi reconciliation. 

In Muscat, Bagheri Kani met with Omani Foreign Minister Badr Albusaidi. “During the meeting, they discussed bilateral cooperation relations and emphasized the joint keenness to enhance it in various fields, in a way that would bring more mutual benefits. A number of regional and international issues of common interest were also discussed,” the Omani foreign ministry said in statement. 

The meeting comes two days after a phone conversation between the foreign ministers of Iran and Oman. 

“Abdollahian expressed his thanks to the Sultanate for hosting talks in Muscat between Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which culminated in the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” the Omani foreign ministry said in a separate statement. “The final agreement to resume diplomatic relations and cooperation was reached in the Chinese capital, Beijing. Sayyid Badr expressed Oman’s welcome for the agreement, which the Sultanate hopes will strengthen security, stability and relations of cooperation and good neighbourliness among the countries of the region.”

Earlier, Oman welcomed the joint statement issued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China to resume Saudi-Iranian diplomatic relations and to reopen their embassies and representations within a maximum period of two months.

Oman expressed its hope that this step will contribute to strengthening security and stability in the region and to consolidating positive and constructive cooperation that benefits all peoples of the region and the world, according to Oman’s foreign ministry. 

Iran’s new approach to foreign policy appears to be gaining even more steam. On Sunday, the Iranian foreign minister announced that Iran and the United States have recently reached an agreement to swap prisoners. 

“In recent days, we reached an agreement on the issue of prisoner swap between Iran and the United States. And if everything goes well on the American side, I think we will see a prisoner exchange in the short term. We consider this case to be a completely humanitarian case,” Amir-Abdollahian said, according to Iranian media. 

He also said that Iran continues to exchange messages with the US regarding the issue of lifting sanctions. 

As things stand, there is a new momentum in Iranian diplomacy, which has just got a boost by the Raeisi administration’s doctrine of balanced foreign policy. 

In a statement issued after the Friday deal, the Iranian foreign ministry said, “Iran’s foreign policy took another important step forward during the tenure of President Ebrahim Raeisi, in line with the doctrine of balanced foreign policy, dynamic diplomacy and smart interaction and with the aim of materializing the policy of neighborliness and completing the previous effective steps. Thanks to intensive and pragmatic negotiations, the Beijing Agreement was made in order to put back relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia on their normal track.”

It added, “With this momentum, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran showed that it is firmly resolved to realize the interests of the Iranian people and Muslim, friendly and neighboring nations and to use regional possibilities to achieve and strengthen inclusive peace and stability and to realize the collective interests of regional governments and nations. This also proved that Iran has envisioned effective steps to move forward.  The Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran is confident of the positive role and implications of this agreement in realizing the mutual interests of the two nations of Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as other regional nations.”

By Mehran Shamsuddin

First published in Tehran Times

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