Restoring ties with Iran and Syria: A pivotal move of Saudi Arabia

Published : Tuesday, 28 March, 2023 at 12:00 AM

Although ignorance may be bliss, this adage is untrue when considering the political, social, and economic ups and downs in the Middle East. There isn’t a single security or stability crisis happening right now that isn’t connected to others happening in other parts of the world. All are connected and associated. One affects the others in both direct and indirect ways. Yet, in order to bring about global peace, global leaders must concentrate on resolving the Middle East conflict, and Saudi Arabia’s recent action may have only increased expectations.

One of the leading nations in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, recently took action to mend relations with Syria and Iran, two other Arab adversaries. China, one of the biggest economic superpowers in the world today, was the one that started and mediated this thawing of ties, a highly significant event for the Middle East and the world. Iranian and Saudi Arabian representatives met in Beijing on March 6, 2023, for discussion. Riyadh and Tehran declared their decision to reestablish relations four days later. By realigning the region’s key powers, eclipsing the existing Arab-Iranian divide with a complex web of ties, and incorporating the region into China’s larger global objectives, this historic accord has the potential to alter the Middle East. The declaration is also seen as a huge step forward for Beijing in its rivalry with Washington.

In an effort to ease tensions between the Gulf adversaries, accelerate nuclear negotiations, and put an end to the conflict in Yemen, the United States had encouraged Iran and Saudi Arabia to begin talks in 2021. After five rounds of direct negotiations, there were subsequent informal discussions between Tehran and Riyadh. Then, U.S. President Joe Biden asked the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an intergovernmental grouping of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, to work with Israel to control Iran during his visit to Saudi Arabia in July 2022. When President Xi Jinping was seen by the Saudi administration as a more effective middleman with Tehran, they went to China instead.

The Saudis believed that involving China was the best way to ensure that a deal with Iran would last, because Tehran would be unlikely to jeopardize its relations with Beijing by breaking such a deal. During his December 2022 visit to Riyadh, Chinese Premier Xi discussed the issue with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and then met with Iranian President EbrahimRaisi in Beijing in February 2023.Following intense talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two sides agreed to normalize relations.



If the agreement is completely executed, Iran and Riyadh will be once again tightly linked. Only in 2016 were diplomatic connections broken between the nations when a mob set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. According to the new deal, both sides will reopen embassies, and the Saudi government would discontinue its backing for the Iran International television station, which Tehran blames inciting internal discontent. All parties will respect the April 2022 cease-fire in Yemen and begin negotiations on a formal peace accord to end the country’s civil conflict. Iran will stop arming Houthi rebels and convince them to stop attacking Saudi Arabia with missiles. A new regional security framework is also to be discussed between Iran and its Arab neighbors, as well as closer economic and diplomatic connections between Iran and the GCC nations.

The Iranian-Saudi agreement has the ability to put an end to one of the most crucial rivalries in the region and strengthen economic connections throughout the Gulf. Tehran also reestablished full diplomatic ties with Kuwait and the UAE in 2022. But the Beijing deal with the Saudis is the true opening to the Arab world, which could soon be extended to Bahrain and Egypt. The agreement can improve relations between Iran and its Arab neighbors and progressively normalize its regional connections. The consequences for the region of such a rapidly developing relationship may be deep. Tehran welcomes China’s deepening role in the Middle East because it weakens U.S. influence in the region and undermines the U.S.-led sanctions regime that has crippled Iran’s economy.

The Beijing-led deal represents a bolder geopolitical turn for Saudi Arabia. Riyadh and Washington’s relationship has never been worse. The fall of the Iraqi government, the nuclear agreement, the United States’ refusal to back Saudi Arabian interests in their fight against Iran in Syria and Yemen, and its inability to protect the country when Iran attacked its oil installations in 2019 all caused Riyadh to be unsatisfied. Seemingly, Washington lacks a clear strategy for regional security in Middle East.Moreover, Saudi leaders are also dissatisfied with the current leadership in Washington.

President Biden was slow to repair relations after vowing as a candidate to treat the regime as a “pariah,” following the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. In effect, Riyadh is showing that if U.S. policy does not serve Saudi interests, then the Saudis will not be beholden to the alliance.

Saudi Arabia decided to reestablish ties with Syria after more than decade of hostility, after a historic agreement to do so with Iran. After Saudi Arabia and Iran had reached a deal brokered by China, talks between Riyadh and Damascus gained speed. A significant shift in the Middle East’s power dynamics would result from the restoration of ties between Saudi Arabia and Syria. From the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has faced widespread isolation from Western and Arab nations. Sanctions led by the US against Syria have also proved devastating.

Washington has been hesitant to recognize that Saudi Arabia sees itself as a regional power capable of playing an independent role in international affairs, rather than a security puppet of the US. Riyadh seeks tight and autonomous connections with the US, as well as Russia and China. It also sees itself as an important player in the area, balancing Egypt, Iran, Israel, and Turkey in order to secure its own stability and leverage regional influence. In 2022, Riyadh restored ties with Turkey; now it is doing the same with Iran and Syria.

With restoration of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran and Syria, the Middle East should also focus on increasing activities of different Islamic and economic organizations like OIC as well as OPEC as these organizations under a united Arab world can significantly contribute in global economy and politics.

Different parties may view Saudi Arabia’s action as being inspired by China in various ways. Yet the Middle East, or the Arab Muslim World, has actually been split for a very long time, and it is crucial for the region’s success for them to come together. Due to the divergent views of Muslim leaders, Muslims continue to experience oppression in many regions of the world. The status of Muslims will be preserved and protected across the world if unity is formed among the Arab nations. Also, if wars and conflicts decrease dramatically and Muslims regain their respect, this will result in a decrease in terrorism and fundamentalism, a ploy used against the Muslims for decades by the Westerners.

While restoring diplomatic ties or even promoting regional cooperation, the Arab countries need to vouch for not supporting any sort of terrorism. They must pledge to the cause of protecting sovereignty of all the nations in the world. Arab countries are getting the most modern in terms of their lifestyle and use of technology. They must portray that modernization at every aspect of their global interactions. Only if terrorism, fundamentalism, war and conflicts are uprooted while restoring or making ties, then this new move of participating countries in the region will become fruitful for the whole world.

The global order is gradually changing, as we can witness. The current state of the globe is one of bipolarity, where international politics will get more intense. If the Muslim world maintains its unity, then throughout this power transition Muslims everywhere will be safe from the negative impacts of power struggles and will soon see widespread prosperity. For the benefit of the whole globe as well as the Muslim World, we wish that the Arab leaders act independently of anyone’s influence and concentrate on their global advancement.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla

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