March 14, 2023

Iran-Saudi Deal

Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed [last] Friday to re-establish relations after years of hostility… The deal, brokered by China, was announced after four days of previously undisclosed talks in Beijing between top security officials from the two rival Middle East powers.” Reuters

Both sides agree that the deal highlights China’s growing geopolitical influence, but caution that it leaves many issues unresolved:

“Welcome to the post-America moment in the Middle East. US influence has been eroding for decades, from the destructive overreach of the post-9/11 years to the transactional diplomacy of President Donald Trump. Here we are now officially, with China brokering a detente deal between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran…

“Saudi Arabia, long a US partner, appears to be shaking off its commitment to a unipolar US world. It says a lot about how Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman conducts foreign policy as the kingdom brings China and Iran closer, in pursuit of security outside traditional Western allies. ‘MBS has a preference for an alternative world order that is dominated by the likes of Xi and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,’ says Khalid Al-Jabri, a Saudi entrepreneur and physician. ‘Take away the grievances between the Saudi and the Iranian regimes, and they are actually more alike than they’re different.’”
Jonathan Guyer, Vox

“China’s motivation to broker this deal is clear. The pact burnishes China’s geopolitical leadership and—if it holds—reduces the risk of a Mideast war that could seriously disrupt oil supplies on which China is deeply dependent: Some 40% of its oil imports are from the Mideast, led by 1.75 million barrels a day from Saudi Arabia…

“China has successfully used its good relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran to broker a deal. Let’s see if it yields a truly more peaceful Mideast rather than simply providing Iran a respite and the opportunity to focus more on antagonizing the ‘great Satan’ [the US] and the ‘little Satan’ (Israel). In any case, China doesn’t want to police the Mideast, preferring the U.S. retain that role while Beijing prepares for a potential military conflict with the U.S. over Taiwan.”
Karen Elliott House, Wall Street Journal

“The budding accord is noteworthy for the simple reason that the Saudis and Iranians have been hostile toward each other for a very long time. Still, it would be a mistake to call this an earth-shattering diplomatic agreement. It won't resolve all of the security disputes that have made the Iran-Saudi relationship such a toxic one…

“The entire list of outstanding issues between Saudi Arabia and Iran is too long to list. But some of the more significant disputes involve Tehran accelerating its nuclear program, the proxy war in Yemen (which will enter its ninth year later this month), the political competition in Iraq, the political paralysis in Lebanon, and the festering ulcer that is Syria… In short, this isn’t a peace treaty or even a de-escalation agreement. Ultimately, it’s a mechanism to bring Iran-Saudi relations on a more predictable track. That's a good thing in its own right. But folks who conclude that a new dawn has risen should take a breath.”
Daniel DePetris, Washington Examiner

“The Iranians and Saudis had been working toward a détente for two years, aided by several intermediaries — notably Iraq and Oman. China entered the picture late, after the terms had been agreed. But it suits Tehran and Riyadh to allow Beijing to supervise the final crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s—and to hog the credit. After all, China is the world’s biggest buyer of what Saudi Arabia and Iran have to sell…

“For the agreement to have any substance, the Iranians would have to call off their surrogates in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been bogged down in a conflict with the Tehran-backed Houthi militia… It is conceivable that secret assurances have been given, but the Saudis will know not to trust the word of the party holding the catspaw. Given these hard realities, the agreement announced in Beijing is unlikely to greatly alter the risks of conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. But it does give China ownership of a problem nobody else wants. Good luck with that.”
Bobby Ghosh, Bloomberg

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