Saudi Arabia and Iran announced on March 10, 2023, that they have agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties in an unexpected agreement brokered by China. Under the deal, Riyadh and Tehran also agreed to activate the security cooperation agreement signed in 2001 and the trade, economic and investment agreement signed in 1998.
They also would not only reopen embassies and exchange ambassadors within a period of two months, Riyadh is expected to end sanctions on Iran, build commercial ties and pledge not to allow Israel to overfly its airspace to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Among others, the deal is expected to help improve security and ease tensions in Yemen as Iran has agreed to stop encouraging Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and in the broader region, particularly in Syria and Lebanon. The proxy wars between the two countries have had the greatest impact in Yemen because of Saudi Arabia’s direct military intervention in Yemen and the disastrous humanitarian situation in the country.
On January 3, 2016, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic relations with Iran in a sharp escalation of tensions between the two regional foes, following the storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran by demonstrators in protest of Riyadh’s execution of 47 people convicted of terrorism, including Shia preacher Nimr al-Nimr and al-Qaeda ideologue Fares al-Shuwail.
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The re-establishment of relations came following talks that took place March 6–10, 2023, in Beijing. But the general agreement was signed after two years of difficult negotiations.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, welcomed the agreement while appreciating the efforts of other countries in this regard, especially Oman and Iraq. Also, France, Jordan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Türkiye, have welcomed the agreement.
Even the White House, which has been heavily criticized for what was seen as a lack of interest in the Middle East and for allowing Beijing to pounce on the opportunity to make an unprecedented diplomatic gain in the region, said China’s efforts to “promote de-escalation” in the region were not “adverse” to American interests but “positive” development for the region.
The deal is most important because it would not only significantly help to de-escalate regional tensions and lead to additional accords that stabilize the Middle East, but both nations’ combined weight will shape the geopolitics of energy and exert an outsized influence on supply and access to that energy so vital to the needs of the world.
And China’s role in brokering the détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia shows that it has moved from a regional actor to establishing itself as a global actor. Already, China’s presence could be felt from Africa to the South Pacific, South and Central Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
Clearly, China is deliberately flexing its ability to affect others through attraction rather than coercion or payment as it builds a reputation as a peacemaker and enhances its brand as a soft power.
By brokering the breakthrough deal between two nations habouring divergent ideological and regional agendas, China shook up the dynamics in the Middle East where the US held hegemony as the main mediator and had flexed its prowess as guarantor of its security and diplomatic legitimacy.
Daily Trust commends China for brokering peace between these nations and showing that there are other ways to solve problems aside from war. We, therefore, enjoin both nations to keep their sides of the deal. They should use the détente to work on full reconciliation or an alliance instead of a stand-alone deal. And China should ensure that it holds them to their commitments.
After all, it has succeeded where the US has failed. Saudi Arabia is Washington’s most important Arab ally, while Iran is its main adversary in the region.
Daily Trust urges Iran and Saudi Arabia to seize the moment and opportunity and take decisive steps to implement the details of the deal.
We also welcome the deal, as the détente with the regional heavyweights would help bring peace to the Middle East and reverberate to other parts of the world.
Iran and Saudi Arabia must also realise that they are leaders in the Muslim world, and that the success of this deal will help reduce sectarian tensions between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim communities in the Middle East and around the world.
We call on other global powers to seek to resolve issues between adversaries through brokered deals instead of taking sides and plunging nations into protracted crises, as the Ukrainian crisis has shown.
Having succeeded where others have failed, China should ensure it doesn’t make the same mistake as other global powers by deeply enveloping itself in Middle Eastern politics, more so as the Persian Gulf region has become a primary arena for great power competition.
Perhaps, it is time for the US and other global powers to learn one or two things from China, especially as it concerns its role in mediating the détente. This is because China has cordial relations with every country in the Middle East, which gives every state in the region an incentive to stay on good terms with Beijing.
The United States, by contrast, has “special relationships” with some countries and no relations at all with others (such as Iran). This gives the adversaries no reason to adjust their behaviour.
Indeed, a much more realistic and even-handed approach could make diplomacy the ultimate solution to endemic crises around the world.