A new player appears in the scene brokering important deals
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On March 10th, 2023, Iran and Saudi Arabia reached an agreement in which they restore their diplomatic relations in a deal brokered in and by China. This deal reduces the possibility of conflict between both nations, as well of an armed escalation.
Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, traveled last Tuesday, March 7th, to China. He did this to have “intensive negotiations with his Saudi counterpart in China in order to finally solve the problems between Tehran and Riyadh”. Talks were held in Beijing for four days.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have decided to resume diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies in two months”,
said a statement by Iran.
“Removing misunderstandings and the future-oriented views between Tehran and Riyadh will definetely lead to improving regional stability and security, as well as increasing cooperation among Persian Gulf nations and the world of Islam for managing current challenges”,
Shamkhani was quoted as saying.
The agreement includes respect for sovereignity and non interference in internal affairs. Also, Tehran and Riyadh agreed to activate a security cooperation agreement signed in 2001, besides a trade agreement, an economy and an investment agreement.
The diplomatic relations were severed by the Gulf kingdom back in 2016, following attacks in their diplomatic headquarters in Iran by a mob. Those attacks took place after the execution of a Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia, which triggered protests in Iran.
Tehran was blamed in the subsequent years for a series of attacks against the territory of its rival, including one in September 2019 against Saudi oil infraestructure. The Houthis, militiamen in Yemen allegedly backed by Iran, were blamed for the attack. However, the West pins its blame on Iran itself, who denies backing the Houthis.
This agreement comes at a time in which both Tehran and Riyadh seek to end their proxy war in Yemen. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman wants to pull out of Yemen, in order to focus on building projects at home. His projects could be compromised by instability shall the war in Yemen continue.
The two countries negotiated with the support of Beijing. Wang Yi, China’s most senior Diplomat, was heard congratulating both nations. Both countries thanked China, Oman and Iraq for their mediation. The restorement of diplomatic relations by Iran and Saudi Arabia in China, and brokered by China, represents a major victory for the Asian giant. The Gulf States perceive that the US is slowly withdrawing from the Middle East.
Iraq has hosted mediation talks since 2021, while China has hosted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and is a major purchaser of Saudi oil at the same time.
Former Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennet, qualified the agreement as a “dangerous development” for his country and a “fatal blow” to the effort to build a regional coalition against Iran.
Iran is a Shia majority country, while Saudi Arabia is a Sunni majority country. Both are involved in proxy wars, supporting opposing sides in several conflicts in the Middle East. For example, Saudi Arabia backs the Hadi government against the Iranian backed Houthis in Yemen; or for several years, the Kingdom backed the Sunni rebels in Syria against the Alawite President Bashar al-Assad, whom Iran still supports.
We can expect an increase of Chinese influence in the Middle East. There is a possibility of China getting more involved in diplomacy in the region. If the US will leave a vacuum and if Beijing will fill it, it remains to be seen.
Guillermo is a journalist, writer and independent international analyst. If you like what you read, please support him by donating:
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