Sunday 10 December, 2023

Al-Estiklal Newspaper

Why Are Saudi Arabia and Iran Seeking to Improve Relations?

2021/10/28 20:10:00 |
The Iranian-Saudi rapprochement came with global and regional developments.
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The attention of the Middle East has recently turned to Saudi Iranian relations, as all parties are watching the prospects for a successful rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The talks, which began with Iraqi mediation between Saudi and Iranian officials in early 2021, created an atmosphere of optimism in the region, according to what the Turkish newspaper Star says.

Apparently, the rise of hawks in Iranian politics did not affect the rapprochement between the two sides either.

As for the start of the export process from Iran to Saudi Arabia on October 18, 2021, it was the closest step indicating the improvement of bilateral relations, which deteriorated and even broke off with Riyadh’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr in 2016.

Here, the Turkish writer Necmettin Agar says that the Iranian-Saudi rapprochement came with global and regional developments.

While reducing the US role in the Middle East arena, especially towards Gulf security, is considered the most important development at the global level, the radical changes in interests and threats to Saudi Arabia and Iran were the most important development at the regional level.


Gulf Security

According to Agar, the Gulf security architecture has undergone a radical transformation in the post-2010 period.

The shale gas revolution and the increasing weight of actors such as the United States and Russia in global energy markets have not only eliminated Washington's need to rely on regional energy resources but have also diminished the importance of the Gulf states on the global political stage.

Meanwhile, the West began trying to balance China after its "dangerous" rise and attempt to reshape the global order in line with its own priorities.

The "Asia to the Axis" strategy, developed by Washington in 2012, was the most important project aimed at preventing China from changing the liberal West-led order in the world.

The writer also touched on the "Ocos" agreement on nuclear cooperation between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which was signed in September 2021 at the initiative of the administration of US President Joe Biden.

He said the agreement is a move in the context of implementing the "Asia to Pivot" strategy that Biden developed when he was former Vice President Barack Obama.

He added that “as a result of all these developments, American guarantees for the security of the Gulf states have declined."

Those countries had to manage themselves, since they had previously relied on American guarantees to maintain their security and stability since World War II.

However, the writer said that “the asymmetry of power between Iran and Saudi Arabia, arising from demographic, geopolitical, economic, military, and ideological factors, is forcing Riyadh to search for new ways to get out of the impasse in which it has fallen, with the closing of the American security umbrella.

On the other hand, China is preparing to fill the power vacuum in the Gulf region at a time when the US umbrella is closing little by little, which complicates the situation.

China will go to develop its relations with Iran instead of Saudi Arabia if it becomes a major player in regional security.

This is confirmed by the admission of Iran as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization led by China in September 2021.

This shows that China will prefer Iran over Saudi Arabia if it is forced to choose between them, according to the Turkish writer.


Variable Balances

Agar continues to say that “on the other hand, there have been major changes in the regional balances in the Gulf region recently.”

The rivalry between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the difficulties that the kingdom faced in the Yemen war, and the significant deterioration in the Iranian economy, all impose radical changes in regional balances.

The writer explained that the Emirati-Saudi axis was formed on the basis of a common interest in maintaining the regional situation during the Arab Spring, and then this alliance eventually developed into intense competition with diverging interests in the Yemen war, and competition in the fields of economy and energy.

Saudi Arabia imposed customs duties on products coming from free zones in the Emirates, and restricted travel to Abu Dhabi under the pretext of the Corona pandemic.

It also worked to exclude companies that did not move their headquarters to Saudi Arabia from public tenders, and also established a new airline to weaken Dubai's position as an economic and diplomatic center for the region.

It can be said that this economic competition was the first important regional development that paved the way for Iranian-Saudi rapprochement.

Abu Dhabi is currently Tehran's largest regional trading partner, especially since it is known that Iran's exports to the UAE move from there to China, the writer says.

He explains that Iran cannot export to China because of the sanctions, so it sends its products to the UAE first, and from there Iranian goods are re-exported to Beijing.

It seems that Saudi Arabia is looking forward to sharing the cake that the UAE takes as a result of its role in trade between Iran and China, so it opened trade channels with Iran in October.

Saudi Arabia is expected to play a role in this trade as well, according to the author's assessment.

The second is the UAE's challenge to Saudi Arabia's leadership in the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) meeting, which forced Riyadh to create new energy cooperation.

In this, the press leaked that there were talks about selling Iranian oil through Riyadh in exchange for stopping Yemeni attacks (by the Houthi group, an ally of Tehran) on the kingdom during the recent Iranian-Saudi talks.


Different Story

Saudi Arabia wants to avoid attacks from Yemen through rapprochement with Iran.

This, in fact, indicates Iran's success in using nuclear weapons and the Yemeni crisis as a pressure factor to achieve its regional goals, according to the Turkish writer's assessment.

However, the reasons for Iran's rapprochement with Saudi Arabia are completely different, as Tehran is going through difficult economic situations due to the sanctions imposed on the country.

Therefore, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is going to take the shortest path to relieve international pressure on his country.

This is represented in ending competition with regional actors, at least, in order to create a moderate political atmosphere.

Especially since Iran has been waging a proxy war in the region since 2006, which leads to the depletion of its scarce resources that it needs to spend on national welfare and development.

Despite the Iranian regime's pride in its nuclear activities and proxy wars, deteriorating economic conditions are weakening the regime's legitimacy at home.

Agar concludes his article by saying that the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia have realized that they are moving beyond their capabilities.

It is noticeable that the perceptions of the two parties about threats and interests have also radically changed based on regional and global developments.

In the event of a rapprochement, the normalization of Iranian-Saudi relations will have important effects on regional politics, the author concludes.





The implications of the Iran-Saudi rapprochement [Turkish]