Italy was among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, following the foundation of the Kingdom in 1932. After the Italian recognition of the Kingdom and the signing of a bilateral Friendship Treaty, the first Italian Diplomatic Representation was established in Jeddah. In the same year of 1932 the first official visit by a member of the Saudi Court took place: Prince Faisal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (future King from 1964 to 1975) went to Rome to exchange the instruments of ratification for the Treaty of Friendship. A second visit followed in 1935, led by Crown Prince Saud, with the aim of establishing agreements in the aeronautical sector and seeking partnerships in the automotive field. These were the years in which the Italian fascist regime was looking for a diplomatic opening towards the Arab world and was trying to nurture – in an anti-British way – the interest with which the Middle Eastern nationalist movements and the rising monarchies, such as the Saudi one, looked at Italy.
With the outbreak of World War II, however, diplomatic relations between the two countries were interrupted due to the British Empire, which maintained a tight political and military hold over the entire Gulf region. They were re-established in 1947 as, in the words of Saudi King Abdulaziz, Italy was a country towards which Saudi Arabia had always “expressed feelings of sincere friendship”.
In 1951, the Saudi Diplomatic Representation in Rome was opened and economic-commercial relations were established, driven by the supply (as a gift) of six Caproni airplanes, the start of food exports and the project of introducing Fiat automobiles and industrial vehicles into the kingdom. With the emergence of the bipolar world and the growing partnership between Saudi Arabia and the United States linked to the exploitation of oil fields, the Italian-Saudi exchange got consolidated by a significant import of oil and export of instrumental machinery for industry and production of consumer goods.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Italy reacted to the instability of the region shaken by the Arab-Israeli wars through a foreign policy aimed at promoting dialogue, which also reflected the need for Italy to guarantee the security of energy supply. In those years, Foreign Minister Aldo Moro was promoting the “diplomacy of friendship”, based on equal cooperation and mutual respect, free from political, ideological and religious prejudices, between the Western and Arab world partners.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Italy and Saudi Arabia developed convergent views in relation to the resolution of the crises that affected the Middle East, from the conflict between Iraq and Iran to the instability in Lebanon, up to the first Gulf War, when both countries participated in the international coalition to respond to the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. The closer diplomatic, military and economic cooperation led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in Riyadh on 2000, on the basis of which the relations between the two countries were set in a framework of regular and structured consultations.
With the new millennium and the 9/11 attacks against United States, relations with partners in the Middle East and with Saudi Arabia have been redefined and fundamental importance has been attributed to the cooperation in the fight against terrorism and jihadist extremism. In this context, Saudi Arabia has continued to appreciate the balanced position that has marked the Italian diplomacy, with respect for example to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Italian constructive stance with the deployment of military contingents in support of the stabilization of Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan.
The network of relations between the two countries continues to expand thanks to the presence of the Italian community, historically rooted in Jeddah, where there is also an Italian school, and to the constant growth of investments in Saudi Arabia by important Italian economic players, no longer limited to the hydrocarbon and energy infrastructure sectors but also in the fields of civil engineering, health, fashion and food.