Years of secretive talks behind Saudi-Iran rapprochement

Negotiations that began in early April 2021 have only rarely been acknowledged by both sides

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomes Mustafa Al Kadhimi at Jeddah in June 2022, as the then-caretaker Iraqi prime minister sought to resume Saudi-Iranian talks hosted by Baghdad. AFP
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Saudi Arabia and Iran's announcement on Friday that they would resume diplomatic relations broken off in 2016 follows nearly two years of backroom talks.

Dialogue began in early 2021 in Baghdad, the only publicly confirmed venue for the negotiations until the agreement to resume ties was announced in Beijing.

Although Saudi Arabia and Iran thanked both Iraq and Oman for hosting the talks, Muscat has never publicly confirmed doing so.

The following are key dates in the rapprochement between the countries since the suspension of ties in 2016 over Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric convicted on charges of terrorism and subsequent attacks on Saudi diplomatic facilities by Iranian protesters.

April 9, 2021: Iran and Saudi Arabia hold their first direct talks since the rupture, hosted by Baghdad. Neither country confirms the talks, which were reported to have focused on the conflict in Yemen, where they back opposing sides, and the political and financial crisis in Lebanon. Altogether, four rounds of talks would be held between April and September.

April 19, 2021: Tehran says it “welcomed dialogue” with Riyadh does not confirm that direct talks had occurred.

May 5, 2021: Iraq's then-president Barham Salih says Baghdad hosted talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran “more than once”.

May 7, 2021: Saudi Arabia confirms for the first time that it is holding direct talks with Iran to reduce regional tensions.

May 10, 2021: Iran confirms that it is holding talks with Saudi Arabia, saying: “We welcome resolving of the issues that have existed between the two countries.”

June 14, 2021: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan visits Oman, amid reports that Muscat is seeking to host a new round of Saudi-Iranian talks.

March 13, 2022: Iran pulls out of talks ahead of a planned fifth round without giving a reason, a day after mass executions in Saudi Arabia that activists said included 41 Shiites.

April 21, 2022: Iran and Saudi Arabia hold a fifth round of talks.

June 26, 2022: Iraq's then-caretaker prime minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi attempts to restart the dialogue with a visit to Saudi Arabia and then Iran, but there is no subsequent news of further negotiations.

November 29, 2022: New Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani makes his first official visit to Iran and is reported to have raised the issue of resuming talks with Saudi Arabia. However, he was told this would not happen as Iran believed the kingdom was supporting countrywide anti-government protests through Saudi-funded media channels, according to a member of Iraq’s ruling Co-ordination Framework coalition who spoke to the Associated Press.

December 9, 2022: Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Saudi Arabia and holds talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

February 16, 2023: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visits China to meet Mr Xi.

March 10, 2023: Saudi Arabia and Iran announce in Beijing their intention to fully restore diplomatic relations within two months, following talks in China's capital that began on March 6.

Updated: March 10, 2023, 6:03 PM