Traditional Middle East rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed to restore diplomatic relations after seven years of bilateral estrangement, in a deal brokered by China.
The landmark agreement was announced on Friday after four days of undisclosed talks in Beijing between top security officials from the two Middle East regional giants.
A joint statement recently issued by Iran, Saudi Arabia and China claimed that the “agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs”.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies within two months, the statement said.
The joint statement said “the ministers of foreign affairs of both countries” shall meet to implement the deal and “arrange for the return of their ambassadors”.
The historic deal reflects China’s growing diplomatic influence in the Middle East and its proximity to two significant oil producers in the region.
Ali Bakir, non-resident senior fellow with the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council noted that “China’s footprint in this diplomatic breakthrough promotes the perception that China’s role in the Gulf and the region is significantly increasing in a way that would leave implications beyond typical trade and business relations”.
“It also highlights the absence of the United States as a major player in the region, diplomatically, economically and militarily,” he said.
Bakir stated that the “development also highlights the diversification strategy of Saudi Arabia in which Riyadh has been taking bold positions vis-a-vis the United States on critical issues recently and opening up more to Russia and China despite knowing very well the potential consequences of its actions”.
White House remarks
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the US “welcomes any efforts to help end the war in Yemen and de-escalate tensions in the Middle East region”.
“De-escalation and diplomacy together with deterrence are key pillars of the policy President Biden outlined during his visit to the region last year,” Kirby said.
He said that the Saudis did keep the US “informed about these talks that they were having”, just as the US keeps them informed about its engagements.
However, he noted that the US was not directly involved in the negotiation process.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the deal and praised China, Oman and Iraq for promoting the talks.
“Good neighbourly relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are essential for the stability of the Gulf region,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.
A senior Chinese diplomat, Wang Yi, described the deal as a victory for dialogue and peace, adding that Beijing would continue to play a constructive role in addressing tough global issues, news reports said.
Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies said that “Saudi Arabia struck the agreement in a way that seems to have entirely excluded the United States [and] sends a message that the Saudis are seeking to diversify their bets on security and not rely wholly on the United States”.
“The US government is of two minds in that it wants the Saudis to take increasing responsibility for their own security, but it does not want Saudi Arabia freelancing and undermining US security strategies,” Alterman noted.
The implications of the Saudi Arabia and Iran deal will likely become apparent in the coming months and could lead to greater co-operation between the two Middle East nations.
Since 2014, when civil war erupted in Yemen, Iran has been accused of backing Houthi rebels, a Shiite movement fighting Yemen’s Sunni-dominated government.
Experts believe the new agreement could potentially lead to a reduction in tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia — which have led to continued violence and instability in Yemen and the waters surrounding the Persian Gulf.
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