China reconciles Iran with Saudi Arabia
The details of the Iranian-Saudi formula of reconciliation were not disclosed, probably, we are talking about some delimitation of spheres of influence in the region
Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to restore diplomatic relations after a seven-year absence. China played a big role in the agreement, and Russia especially likes it.
The two countries have been exemplary antagonists for many years: a revolutionary republic and a Sunni monarchy, an anti-colonial force with the slogan Death to America! and a stronghold of US influence.
Over the 40 years of the existence of the Islamic Republic, relations between Tehran and Riyadh have repeatedly gone through stages of normalization. But then everything inevitably slipped into new escalations.
Iran needs more
Iran and Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations back in 2016 after the Saudis executed a prominent Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr. The decision to restore them matured for more than one year. Iraq became the first mediator. Since April 2021, several rounds of negotiations have taken place in Baghdad. The dialogue then came to a standstill and was suspended for several months, then resumed.
Iran’s motives are associated with a large number of escalations in which the country has become involved in recent times. Israel regularly commits acts of sabotage against Iran’s nuclear facilities and strikes at pro-Iranian forces. With the US, too, everything is clear. Against this background, the authorities of the Islamic Republic came to the conclusion that now the best way to alleviate their difficult international situation is to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia.
The Iranians have long called on Riyadh to start a dialogue, and for greater persuasiveness they accompanied verbal calls with various methods of pressure. Iranian drones in the hands of the Yemeni Houthis have attacked Saudi Arabia, Iranian hackers have attacked critical infrastructure in the kingdom, and there have been occasional mysterious explosions on Saudi tankers.
China is the big winner
The real implications of the agreement for the Iranians and Saudis have yet to be assessed. But what we can talk about now is the unexpected role of China, which acted as an intermediary. Many are already calling Beijing a possible counterbalance to the US in the Middle East.
Washington is indeed losing interest in the region. The American authorities are not very happy with the deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but in order to prevent it, it was necessary to provide Riyadh with security guarantees. The US agrees to sell weapons to the Saudi kingdom, but not to defend it on its own. Under the current conditions, the White House would rather agree with the Iranian-Saudi normalization than become directly involved in the military confrontation between the two countries.
Beijing, in turn, positions itself as a responsible and peaceful power that seeks constructive solutions and is able to move problems off the ground. Thanks to the successful mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have waged a proxy war with each other in recent years, China has shown that it is able – unlike the United States – to end regional conflicts, not limited to just general words about peace.
Of course, China’s diplomatic success in the Middle East does not mean it can do the same. with respect to Ukraine and Russia, which Beijing would like to reconcile with its plan. Here, first of all, the fact that Kyiv considers Beijing too close to Moscow and therefore does not see it as an intermediary prevents it. But the conflict may sooner or later reach a dead end, and then Chinese mediation will still become possible – after all, Russia will no longer want to see the West in this role.
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