Tehran, Iran – The rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia has led to profound changes beyond the borders of both regional powers.
Tehran has normalised relations with several other countries, and efforts are under way to make changes to help stabilise the region and reduce tensions.
So, who has recently re-established formal relations with Iran, what’s the latest between Tehran and Riyadh, and who else could follow suit in improving relations?
Why were some countries not talking to Iran?
When Iran and Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic relations, the fallout spread beyond them, with several Arab nations also severing ties with Tehran, along with some African states that bet on the kingdom.
Djibouti, Sudan and the Maldives were some of the countries that distanced themselves from Iran in support of Riyadh.
The Tehran-Riyadh detente led to more contact between Iran and Arab neighbours, with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian meeting with Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.
The detente also prompted talks between the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen on one side and Saudi Arabia and the internationally recognised Yemeni government on the other, and helped Syria to be readmitted into the Arab League.
Things were more complicated for Egypt, which has had a rocky relationship with Iran since the latter’s Islamic revolution in 1979, which deposed the last shah.
Then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat granted asylum to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi when he fled Iran, and he stayed in Cairo until his death in 1980. Egypt’s recognition of Israel was another major factor that contributed to darkening relations.
Morocco, for its part, said in 2018 that it would sever diplomatic ties with Tehran over its alleged support for the Western Saharan independence movement known as the Polisario Front.
The United States has not had formal relations with Iran since the 1980 hostage crisis, and Canada cut its ties in 2012 after accusing the Iranian state of being “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today”.
So who has rekindled ties with Iran?
The sidelines of the UNGA in New York provided a good opportunity for Iranian officials to sit down with their counterparts from the region and beyond.
Tehran’s increasing efforts to re-establish dialogue with an array of players appeared to bear fruit, leading to restoring relations with at least two countries.
FM Amir-Abdollahian met with the top diplomat of Djibouti, Mahamoud Ali Youssouf on Thursday, and they announced re-establishing relations.
One day later, Amir-Abdollahian had a meeting with Ahmed Khaleel, the Maldivian foreign minister, and the two announced that formal diplomatic relations would resume.
Both deals come shortly after Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore formal diplomatic relations in a groundbreaking deal brokered by China in March.
Diplomatic ties were severed in 2016 after Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran were stormed by demonstrators in reaction to the execution of a prominent Shia religious leader by the Sunni-majority kingdom.
How’s the Tehran-Riyadh agreement going?
Iran and Saudi Arabia, who first restarted talking directly with Iraqi mediation in 2021, have both praised how their rapprochement is going.
The regional heavyweights exchanged ambassadors earlier this month and have been in increasingly regular contact since the agreement.
Iran says President Ebrahim Raisi has accepted an invitation by Saudi leaders to visit Riyadh, a significant trip that is expected in the foreseeable future.
Tehran, which earlier this week congratulated the monarchy on the occasion of its national day, has also extended an invitation for Saudi leaders to visit.
The two nations’ foreign ministers seemed cheerful when they met on the sidelines of the 78th UNGA meeting this week and discussed improving bilateral relations, including regarding air and sea transport, and facilitating more sports events after Tehran hosted Cristiano Ronaldo and other football stars.
Amir-Abdollahian told Saudi chief diplomat Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud that Iran is ready to draft and sign a comprehensive bilateral cooperation accord as discussed during the former’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in August.
Who else is talking to Iran now?
After the reconnect with Saudi Arabia, a successful rapprochement between Iran and Egypt would likely prove to be the biggest deal.
For about two years, Tehran and Cairo have been speaking – to much less fanfare than seen in talks with Riyadh – with mediation from Iraq and Oman, as the two seriously evaluate rekindling ties amid a changed landscape under Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Most recently, Iran’s Raisi told a press conference in New York that the latest meeting between the countries’ foreign ministers could lead to the start of a new chapter in bilateral relations and that Tehran “sees no obstacle in establishing relations with Egypt”.
Jordan and Iran have also been talking, but details are scant and the talks do not appear to have progressed to an advanced political stage as Amman, one of the largest recipients of US foreign aid, may fail to see eye to eye with Tehran on Israel and Syria.
Iran is also looking to expand its horizons with Sudan and Morocco, with Amir-Abdollahian expressing hope that formal relations can be re-established.