What to expect after Iran, Saudi Arabia agree to restore ties | news

Tehran, Iran – Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties in a China-brokered deal that could have wide-reaching consequences, but analysts say building on it will prove to be the main challenge.

The agreement signed in Beijing on Friday said the foreign ministers of the two countries would meet within two months to discuss diplomatic missions, marking an end to the seven-year rift.

In Iran, the agreement was generally welcomed, with senior officials praising it as a step towards reducing tensions and strengthening regional security. Conservative media outlets focused primarily on how the deal signaled a “defeat” for the United States and Israel.

Some similar outlets celebrated in 2016, when Riyadh severed political ties with Tehran following attacks on its diplomatic missions.

Missions were attacked by protesters after the Sunni-majority state executed a prominent Shia Muslim leader.

At that time, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hussaini Khamenei also condemned the Saudi leaders.

But none of Iranian officials or state-linked media are now openly displaying pessimism as the talks, which began in April 2021, have finally borne fruit after efforts by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who Visited Saudi Arabia in December and hosted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi last month. ,

Friday’s rapprochement was greeted with optimism by Iraq and Oman – who had previously helped mediate the talks – and many others in the region, while the US greeted it with caution.

‘High level of mistrust’

According to Tehran-based political analyst Diyako Hosseini, the agreement is a positive development, but only one of many steps.

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“Saudi Arabia will still be cautious in its economic dealings with Iran as it does not want to be exposed to US sanctions. And normalization doesn’t mean both sides trust each other,” Hosseini told Al Jazeera. “Regardless, reducing tensions in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq may still involve broader interests for both sides.”

Hosseini said that ending the eight-year war in Yemen, where Iran and Saudi Arabia back the opposing sides, may be the most important end result of the accord, but it will be a difficult goal to achieve.

“The high level of mistrust and the intensity of geopolitical rivalry could make the trend of reducing tensions reversible. To achieve success, both countries need to initiate sustained and long-term efforts and try credible methods that Guarantee mutual interests.

According to Hosseini, China was the big winner of the agreement, as it strengthened the legitimacy of its reach across the region.

“Effectively, not only did China become the guarantor of this deal, but it also showed that the US could no longer ignore China’s role in the security system of the Arabian Gulf, a region where energy reserves and routes to the Chinese economy are important. are more important than America,” he said.

‘Shifting Violence’

Thomas Juno, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, agrees that Friday’s agreement may serve to ease tensions rather than resolve deeper differences.

“Iran-Saudi tensions have ebbed and flowed for decades, but their destination has always been high,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that an exhausted Saudi Arabia has been looking for a way out of the prolonged Yemen conflict. And its deal with Tehran could lead to a deal with the Iran-backed Houthis.

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“That said, it is very important to understand that such an agreement, even if it happens soon, will unfortunately not lead to peace in Yemen,” he said, adding that the conflict between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed coalition will continue in southern Yemen. Separatist demands will remain.

“A Houthi-Saudi accord would lead to a change in violence, not a stop,” he said.

Juno also said that Iran could make minor concessions on Yemen, but would not agree to end its support for the Houthis under any deal with Saudi Arabia.

“Iran’s support for the Houthis has enabled it to exert significant influence in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula. Iran will not give up this important tool in its portfolio.”

Significance of past agreements

Iran and Saudi Arabia have had a checkered history with less than a century of formal diplomatic relations, which have seen many ups and downs since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

The kingdom supported Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Iran in the 1980s, but maintained close ties with Tehran after the end of the war.

Tehran and Riyadh came closer during the tenure of reformist President Mohammad Khatami in Iran, and signed a general cooperation agreement in 1998 and a security cooperation agreement in 2001.

Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s current security chief who signed the agreement on Friday, was defense minister at the time and played a major role in efforts to bring the two countries closer together, even receiving the Order of Abdulaziz Medal, which It was the highest award given by the state. , in the early 2000s.

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The fact that the text of Friday’s agreement directly referred to two agreements signed decades ago, with both sides pledging to implement them, is a significant development, said Sina Tosi, a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for International According to policy in Washington, DC.

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran and Minister of State, and Saudi Arabia’s National Security Adviser Musad bin Mohammad Al-Aiban [China Daily via Reuters]

“The mention of these past agreements can be seen as an indication of the positive relations that existed between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. By referencing this period of positive relations, the statement can be seen as an attempt to recapture this spirit of cooperation between the two countries,” he told Al Jazeera.

Tossi said the 1998 agreement covered a range of issues, including deeper security, economic and cultural cooperation, and laid the groundwork for the landmark security accord in 2001.

“This period in Iran-Saudi relations was marked by the creation of joint security institutions, increased trade, the issuance of business visas to each other’s citizens, and regular high-level diplomatic contacts.”

According to Tossi, the mention of these past agreements also highlights the potential for increased cooperation and dialogue.

“Both sides are clearly acknowledging that they have common ground on issues such as regional security and economic cooperation. These past agreements can serve as a starting point for future discussions between the two countries to resolve their differences,” he said.

However, it remains to be seen how the two will handle several sensitive issues including their military and nuclear programs as well as internal affairs.

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