The Foundation of Saudi-Iranian Relations: Setting the Principles

The presence of the Islamic holy places in Arabia made relations between the two countries of paramount importance throughout Islamic history. However, the first encounter between the modern-day states of Saudi Arabia and Modern Iran occurred during the process of unifying Najd (Central Arabia) with the Hejaz, where the Islamic holy places are located, in the years 1924-1925. Persia condemned the Saudi takeover of the holy places,2 and hesitated to offer its official recognition to the new, unified state, and banned Iranian pilgrims from traveling to the Hejaz.3

From the start, the process of obtaining political recognition and establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries was dominated by four issues, which had a determinant effect on their relations. The quest for understanding on these issues set the principles that would govern their relationship. The issues were the guardianship of the holy places in Mecca and Medina, the rites and rituals of Persian pilgrims, interference in internal affairs, and the sovereignty of Bahrain.4

After tense wrangling and negotiations over these issues, positions were clarified and principles for a good relationship were set as follows: guardianship of the holy places would rest with the Saudi state; Hajj would be open to all Muslims, conducted in accordance with the rules of Sharia with no exceptions; there would be no interference in countries’ internal affairs; and Bahrain, for the Saudis, is sovereign, neither a Saudi nor an Iranian principality. A friendship treaty between the two countries was signed in Tehran in 1929.5 However, Saudi-Iranian relations did not experience any major developments during the reign of Reza Shah and remained at a minimal level, focusing mostly on Hajj affairs.

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