As some world leaders hailed the restoration of ties between longtime foes Iran and Saudi Arabia, there were growing fears in Washington that the deal could help end United States primacy in the region and beyond. Could
China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, called it a “victory for the talks” and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres celebrated the announcement, praising China for mediating the deal. Meanwhile, the US, through a National Security Council spokesman, said China’s successful settlement appeared to mirror the failed talks the White House had with the two countries in 2021.
Aaron David Miller, who served as Middle East policy adviser at the State Department for 25 years, said it was “really surprising” that the Saudis had made a deal with the Chinese and Iranians.
“I think it shows that the US has lost influence and credibility in that region and that a new kind of international regional alignment is taking place, which has empowered both Russia and China and given them new influence and status,” said Miller, now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Tehran continues to provide arms to Russia to aid its invasion of Ukraine, continues efforts to enrich uranium, which could allow it to develop nuclear weapons, punishes its people for participating in anti-government protests facing international criticism for doing so and raising tensions with Israel. These are all things that the US has elevated to the world stage as an indictment of the Iranian government.
The agreement was announced months after President Joe Biden visited Saudi Arabia weeks before the US midterm elections to appeal it would help keep gas prices down. Instead, Riyadh came to a separate agreement with Russia and other oil-producing states to reduce production. The Biden administration saw it as a backstabbing and promised that the Saudis would face “consequences”.
But it seems the Saudis are feeling insecure, Miller said. “When you depend on a great power, you want to align with someone else to cut deals with your opponents,” he said.
China’s ‘Victory Lap’
While some policy analysts and former officials said the China-broker deal signals a shrinking role for the US on the world stage, others said Washington never had the chance to mediate such a deal because it has There is no means to negotiate with Iran. The US has no ties with Tehran, isolating it from dialogue and negotiations.
Jonathan Lord, director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said China would undoubtedly take a “victory lap” that would be painful for the US, despite the fact that the Saudis and Iranians want to make one. deal for a while.
“China is clearly going to flaunt its role on the international stage as a mediator and negotiator between nations,” he said, “but it was very clear that both the Iranians and the Saudis needed to reach this.” Both the intention and the effort were there for years.” Place.”
Thomas Countryman, who served as assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation during the Obama administration, said that just because China has terminated the deal doesn’t necessarily pose a threat to the US. Because China has economic and diplomatic ties with Riyadh and Tehran, it makes sense that they may seek agreements with both countries.
Countryman said, “What worries me is that in the current climate in Washington, anything China does will be seen as a sign of treacherous intent and a demonstration that China is determined to dominate the world.” trying.” “The fact is that it was only someone like China who could mediate this reconciliation.”
While it will certainly enjoy international respect, Beijing is also serving its own domestic interests.
China will likely use this opportunity to strengthen its energy security through stronger ties with the two oil-producing countries. Brian Catulis, vice president for policy at the Middle East Institute, said Beijing continues to depend on Iran and Saudi Arabia for oil, while the US and Europe have moved to find energy assurance elsewhere.
“It’s not just symbolism,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense for (China) to have access to those energy resources.”
a peace to build defense
Iran and Saudi Arabia also have a lot to gain. The two longtime rivals in the Middle East have fought a proxy war in Yemen through Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-coalition government that has also received support from the US government. Elsewhere in the region, including in Lebanon and Iraq, there are differences between representatives of the two countries.
Experts said Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran may see less tension due to the deal. Many hoped that this would lead to less violence in Yemen and less fighting between the two countries.
Undoubtedly, the Saudis see the deal as a means to try and reduce Iran’s ability to threaten, or “at least limit some of the Iranian trouble-making incentives,” the Middle East. said Dennis Ross, a former envoy who has worked for both Republicans. and democratic administration.
Ross said he does not think the deal has changed anything in terms of the fundamental relationship between the two countries. He said that the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries “reflects a mutual interest, but it is within a relationship of deep mistrust.”
While there will likely be less conflict, both countries are also expected to use de-escalating tensions to defend their own. Lord said Saudi Arabia had worked hard to build up its military capability to defend itself against possible attacks by Iran. In ongoing talks with the US about normalizing ties with Israel and other issues, Riyadh has also raised its hopes of building up its nuclear capabilities like Iran’s.
But having a deal with Iran could perhaps provide cover for Riyadh to pursue US efforts to normalize relations between the Saudis and Israel without a “material response” from Iran.
“I think maybe it mitigates the risk, potentially a little bit, and gives them a little bit more latitude to explore more opportunities, quietly with Israel, (the US and other regional partners),” Lord he said.
While supportive of the Saudis’ position, perhaps, Israel is unlikely to be too pleased. Iran has long been considered a staunch opponent of Israel in particular, and has worked hard to normalize relations with Arab Gulf states – notably through the 2020 Abraham Accords.
Naftali Bennett, former Prime Minister of Israel Saudi-Iranian deal criticized And blamed it on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said it was a “dangerous development” for Israel, as the country seeks to build a bulwark against Iran.
“This is a fatal blow to the effort to build a regional coalition against Iran,” he said.