Saudi Arabia to admit Iranian diplomat

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Saudi King Salman attends the opening meeting of the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, in the South Sinai governorate, south of Cairo, March 28, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has agreed to admit an Iranian diplomat to head an office representing Iranian interests in the kingdom in a rare move after the rivals broke off relations in 2016.

“An informed diplomatic source said Sunday that Saudi Arabia had agreed to grant a visa to the head … of Iran’s interests section,” IRNA reported. “Observers saw this … as a positive diplomatic step in Tehran-Riyadh relations.”

The office is expected to be set up within the Swiss diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia, based on an agreement signed in 2017.

The kingdom, the regional rival of mostly Shi’ite Iran, presents itself as the guardian of Islamic orthodoxy and custodian of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina.

Riyadh severed diplomatic relations after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran following the execution of a Shi’ite cleric in Saudi Arabia in January 2016.

Both countries agreed to Switzerland’s offer of its traditional policy of good offices and to act as a diplomatic channel between the two countries.

In an interview published on the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s website, the ministry spokesman said there had been a “breakthrough” in relations between the two regional rivals.

Tension between the two countries have surged in recent years, with Saudi Arabia and Iran supporting opposite sides in wars in Syria and Yemen and rival political parties in Iraq and Lebanon.

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