Middle East Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to restore diplomatic relations

The two giants - and great rivals - of the Middle East agree to restore relations

Middle East Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to restore diplomatic relations

The two giants - and great rivals - of the Middle East agree to restore relations. Saudi Arabia and Iran have confirmed this Friday a rapprochement after seven years of hostilities that threatened the stability and security of the region and that have served to add fuel to the fire in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. The agreement has been announced in Beijing, after four days of secret negotiations in which China has mediated.

Tehran and Riyadh pledge to "resume diplomatic relations" and reopen their embassies and missions "within no more than two months," according to a statement issued jointly by Iran, Saudi Arabia and China.

"The agreement includes its affirmation of respect for the sovereignty of States and non-interference in internal affairs," continues the statement released by the official agencies of both countries, Irna and Saudi Press, and has been collected by Reuters.

The two Middle Eastern powers have lived through a long cycle of tensions as countries supporting different sides in regional conflicts and historically harboring opposing majorities in the Sunni-Shiite divide of Islam. Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran in 2016 after protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. A few days earlier, Riyadh had executed a prominent minority Shiite religious figure, the opposition Nimr al-Nimr, sparking clashes.

From then on, the disagreements grew. For example, Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for missile and drone attacks on its oil facilities in 2019, and also blamed Tehran for attacks on oil tankers in Gulf waters. Iran denied the accusations.

The war in Yemen has been one of the scenarios of the 'proxy war' (proxy war, in the term coined in English) that the two powers have waged. The movement of the Houthis from Yemen, close to Iran, which is fighting against the government supported by Saudi Arabia, has extended its attacks on the kingdom, with missiles and drones that have even reached the Riyadh airport. Saudi Arabia has led a coalition against the Houthis since 2015, along with the United Arab Emirates.

Now, by the agreement signed this Friday, the Islamic Republic and the Wahhabi kingdom agree to activate a security cooperation agreement signed in 2001, as well as another previous agreement on trade, economy and investment.

The mediation of China and Oman have been key. In the rapprochement talks - which took place throughout 2021 and 2022 - Iraq, the cradle of Shiism and over which Iran exercises great political influence, has also contributed.

The prospect of an appeasement in relations between these two states may have a positive effect on regional politics. When the Saudis and the Iranians collide, the shock wave reaches not only Yemen or Iraq, but also Syria or Lebanon. "With this agreement, it is possible that we will see a start to reach compromises in those countries," estimates Ali Hashem, an analyst for the Qatari channel Al Jazeera. "This agreement can lead to the creation of an improvement in the security situation in the area," he adds.

The impact could be seen in the coming weeks in Lebanon, where negotiations to elect a new president to replace the pro-Iranian Michel Aoun have been going on since last October. Parliament has already had 10 failed rounds to select the head of state, in which the main obstacle to reaching an agreement is presented by the Shiite political-military group Hezbollah (an ally of Iran and Syria). Its candidate is Suleiman Frangieh, a personal friend of Syrian President Bashar Asad. Opposite him, General Joseph Aoun (who has no ties to Michel Aoun), commander of the armed forces and candidate who supports the US, France and Saudi Arabia. Other names are being considered, arousing support and rejection from the different political groups. The rapprochement between the Saudis and the Iranians could facilitate the unlocking of the Presidency, often a source of tensions between the different sects and Lebanese political factions.

That appeasement has gone ahead with China's large mediating role speaks volumes for its growing interests in the Middle East. The Iranian state media released images of the decisive meeting taken in the capital of the Asian giant. They show Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, with Saudi National Security Adviser Musaad bin Mohammed al-Aiban, accompanied by Wang Yi, China's highest-ranking diplomat.

Wang has "wholeheartedly" congratulated the two countries for their "wisdom" in approaching the agreement, which he described as a victory for dialogue and peace. "Both parties have shown sincerity," he said. "China fully supports this agreement," he declared.

China enjoys an excellent position in each of these powers. Chinese President Xi Jinping recently received Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. At the same time, China is one of the main buyers of Saudi oil. Xi visited Riyadh in December.

The agreement reinforces Beijing's positioning aspirations in international geopolitics, and comes just two weeks after its proposal for a peace plan to resolve the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

According to the criteria of The Trust Project