The two most influential countries in the Middle East, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have recently put an end to their seven-year-long hostility through an agreement that was signed in Beijing on March 10th. The deal was facilitated by China, and the foreign ministers of the two countries are now scheduled to meet in Beijing for the first time in over seven years.
You Can Also Read: IS SAUDI-IRAN COLLABORATION A SETBACK FOR ISRAEL AND US?
The meeting between Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, will mark the first formal encounter between the most senior diplomats of Saudi Arabia and Iran in many years. This development comes after years of hostility that had fuelled conflicts across the Middle East, leading to serious consequences in the region.
What the agreement will bring?
The agreement between Tehran and Riyadh to end their diplomatic rift and re-open embassies comes after several months of discussions between Iran and Saudi Arabia aimed at resuming bilateral relations that were suspended in 2016.
On the agreement, both the countries announced that they would resume diplomatic relations with each other within 60 days. The statement emphasised the need to respect the sovereignty of the states and refrain from interfering in their internal affairs. It also affirmed that all joint agreements between Saudi Arabia and Iran, including the security cooperation agreement, and deals on economy, trade, investment, technology, science, culture, sports, and youth, would be reactivated.
The foreign ministers of the two countries have spoken on the phone at least three times in the past three weeks after signing the agreement in Beijing, in which they discussed the necessary steps to reactivate previous agreements and resume their diplomatic missions.
Last Sunday, the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran had a telephone conversation to discuss the upcoming bilateral meeting. It has been said that, the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries is seen as a positive step towards stability in the Middle East.
Moreover, the reopening of diplomatic relations between the two countries would have significant implications for the region and beyond. The Middle East has long been plagued by tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and their enmity has fuelled conflicts in Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere.
The reopening of embassies and diplomatic missions would also enable the countries to better coordinate their efforts in the fight against terrorism and other threats to regional security.
China played a key role as a mediator in bringing Saudi Arabia and Iran back to the negotiating table. As part of its efforts, China arranged a meeting between the two countries’ diplomats on March 10 in Beijing, which led to the signing of an agreement to re-establish diplomatic relations between the two nations.
Choosing China as the mediator “came as an extension of Beijing’s positive role in reaching the agreement and facilitating communication between the two countries,” according to an unidentified source cited by the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. This move underscores China’s growing influence in the Middle East, as it seeks to expand its economic and political ties with countries in the region.
The statement made by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was positively received regarding this development between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Last month, Blinken welcomed the potential for reduced tensions between the two countries, stating that it is favourable for avoiding conflict and any dangerous or destabilising actions by Iran.
What was the past relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia?
Bilateral relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been strained over several geopolitical issues, such as oil export policy, aspirations for regional leadership, and relations with Western countries. Diplomatic relations were suspended from 1987 to 1990, and both countries have clashed over energy policy as they are major oil and gas exporters. Saudi Arabia, with its larger oil reserves and smaller population, has a greater interest in taking a long-term view of the global oil market and incentivizes moderation of prices. On the other hand, Iran focuses on high prices in the short term due to its low standard of living and larger population, especially given recent sanctions after its decade-long war with Iraq.
Relations between the two countries deteriorated further considerably after the Iranian Revolution, as Iran accused Saudi Arabia of representing US interests rather than Islam in the Persian Gulf region. Saudi Arabia, in turn, is concerned by Iran’s consistent desire to export its revolution across the Persian Gulf region, including post-Saddam Iraq, the Levant, and further south, in addition to its controversial nuclear programme.
Tensions between the two countries have waxed and waned over time, with notable events such as the 2011 alleged Iran assassination plot and the execution of Nimr al-Nimr. However, there have also been attempts to improve the relationship, such as the noticeable thaw in relations after the 1991 Gulf War and President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Riyadh in 2007.
The Syrian civil war has also been a source of tension since March 2011, with Iran providing financial and military support for the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad, while Saudi Arabia supports rebels. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed any development that could help reduce tensions and avoid conflict between the two countries.
In 2016, Saudi Arabia cut off totally its diplomatic relations with Iran after protestors stormed its embassy in Tehran during a conflict over the execution of a Shi’ite Muslim cleric in Riyadh. Since then, the relationship between the two nations has been on the decline, particularly due to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ involvement in the Yemen conflict.
The conflict began in 2015 when the Houthi movement, aligned with Iran, overthrew a Saudi-backed government in Yemen and captured the capital, Sanaa. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of arming the Houthis, who have launched missile and drone attacks on its cities and oil facilities. While Iran denies these allegations, there is substantial evidence linking Iran to the supply of weapons to the Houthis.