The much-anticipated renewal of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, facilitated principally by China, along with other regional countries such as Iraq, and Oman, indicates that diplomacy and dialogue remain viable options in the politics of the Middle Eastern region.
Since the Iranian revolution of 1979, the relationship between Sunni and Shiite powers has been characterized by sectarianism and geostrategic calculations prioritizing a zero-sum approach. The diplomatic ties between the two nations have been negatively impacted by various incidents, including the hajj stampedes, executions, the Saudi embassy’s invasion in Tehran in 2016, which was a response to the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, and resulted in the Kingdom and its allied states severing diplomatic relations with Iran. Additionally, aerial attacks and bombings have further contributed to the deterioration of bilateral relations. Hence, it is imperative to establish additional collaboration to tackle the complete spectrum of apprehensions and hazards these states persist in encountering.
The plan is to reinstate past bilateral accords, including the Security and Cooperation Agreement 2001, which addressed counterterrorism and anti-money laundering efforts, and commitments made by Iran and Saudi Arabia to refrain from meddling in each other’s domestic affairs. Iran is endeavoring to expand the process of détente by pursuing the restoration of diplomatic relations with Bahrain. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has pledged to reestablish diplomatic relations with Syria, an ally of Iran, following the end of Ramadan.
There is a possibility that China will undertake efforts to strengthen the agreement by organizing a summit between the Gulf Cooperation Council and Iran.
The agreement has already yielded economic advantages. The Iranian currency has exhibited a notable increase in strength, albeit with lingering uncertainties regarding the expeditiousness of Saudi Arabia’s pledged investments in Iran. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is motivated to restore a sense of stability in the neighborhood to protect its investments and facilitate the implementation of its Vision 2030 initiative, which aims to diversify its oil-oriented economy.
Normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran could positively impact nuclear non-proliferation efforts. Despite the current inactivity of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran may refrain from taking any provocative measures in the near future to protect its economy and prevent any potential retaliation from Saudi Arabia’s nuclear hedging.
Moreover, a potential avenue for fostering improved Saudi-Iran relations in the future involves the establishment of a consensus on legal measures designed to curtail sectarian tensions, in conjunction with a renewed dedication to diplomatic protocols outlined in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The advancement of knowledge may encompass comprehending the distinct functions, entitlements, and obligations of various regions, serving as the foundation for a novel regional security framework.
Similar to the evolution of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the establishment of a novel regional security forum may arise naturally through sustained interactions. Including additional states and a broader range of traditional and non-traditional security challenges that have already been discussed in Track II dialogues could enhance the effectiveness of a forum and foster a more robust regional identity.
Following the announcement of the Saudi-Iran agreement, a pertinent inquiry arises regarding the potential implications for the likelihood of Saudi-Israeli rapprochement. The current US administration under President Biden has been advocating for the expansion of the Abraham Accords, a diplomatic agreement that facilitated the normalization of Israeli relations with several Arab nations, during the previous administration led by President Trump. Reportedly, Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince and effective leader of Saudi Arabia, has requested the Biden administration to provide further security assurances, support in establishing a non-military nuclear program, and reduced limitations on the trade of weaponry as a condition for initiating official diplomatic relations with Israel.
The request made by the individual aligns with the United States’ objective to finalize a “123 agreement” with the Kingdom. This agreement would establish a legally binding framework for nuclear cooperation that prioritizes peaceful purposes and includes provisions prohibiting enrichment, reprocessing, and unauthorized transfer of nuclear material. The Saudis must finalize a new safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Nonetheless, there is no assurance that the revival of collaboration will result in a more extensive and enduring reconciliation. Also, it is improbable that the United States Congress will furnish the guarantees the Saudi Arabian government seeks. The potential normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel would oppose the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which was influenced by Saudi leadership and ratified by the Arab League. This statement establishes a connection between normalization and the complete withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories, a fair resolution to the issue of Palestinian refugees, and the designation of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
In fact, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi envoy to the US, said on March 14, 2023, that the Kingdom would stick to this strategy, indicating a continued reluctance to normalize relations with Israel, especially under the current right-wing Israeli government. This adds to Kingdom’s worries that Iran will strike it if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, whether the United States is involved or not.
Notwithstanding Saudi Arabia’s endeavors to mitigate its foreign policy risks by engaging with China and collaborating with Russia primarily to limit oil production, its security relies on the United States.
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran is expected to face obstacles due to the current tensions between the United States and Iran. This comes when there is limited progress on the nuclear front, and Iran is under scrutiny for its increasing military cooperation with Russia and its suppression of domestic opposition.
The leadership of Iran is presently experiencing internal and external pressures, which have resulted in a state of division. This situation increases the probability that Tehran will persist in antagonistic behavior towards the United States and its allies. The aforementioned encompasses assistance for assaults carried out by proxies and other non-governmental entities, as evidenced by a recent escalation in Syria that resulted in the death of a contractor from the United States. It is difficult to evade an increased level of instability. The objective is to expand upon previous accords by implementing additional measures to curtail recurring bouts of hostility and tackle nascent sources of jeopardy.
Abu Hurrairah Abbasi works as a Researcher with the Arms Control and Disarmament Center at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad and is a graduate student of International Relations from the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. His research interests include the Politics of South Asia, Emerging Technologies, and Non-Traditional Security threats. He can be reached at email@example.com. He Tweets @theabuhurrairah
Saher Liaqat works as a Researcher with China-Pakistan Study Centre at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad and is a graduate student of International Relations from the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. She is also working with China Study Centre at COMSATS University, Islamabad. Her areas of interest include the International Politics of China, the Politics of South Asia, and Non-Traditional Security threats. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org She Tweets @thesaherrajput