Charting a new course in the West Asia

The geopolitical impact of Iran-Saudi Deal
"Political rhetoric and media propaganda have frequently intensified the rivalry, with both sides accusing each other of fostering radical beliefs and interfering in each other’s domestic affairs."
"Political rhetoric and media propaganda have frequently intensified the rivalry, with both sides accusing each other of fostering radical beliefs and interfering in each other’s domestic affairs."Special arrangement


One of the most significant and long-lasting phenomenon in the Middle East is the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The two countries have a long history of hostility and have been at odds for control in the region.

Religious and geopolitical contrasts have characterised this rivalry, with Saudi Arabia being a Sunni majority Muslim state and Iran being a Shia majority Muslim state.

The two countries’ rivalry has been fuelled by a variety of issues, including control over oil resources, regional influence, and a goal for regional hegemony.

Both countries have substantially invested in their military capabilities and have been active in regional proxy wars, supporting opposite sides in crises such as Syria and Yemen.

Political rhetoric and media propaganda have frequently intensified the rivalry, with both sides accusing each other of fostering radical beliefs and interfering in each other’s domestic affairs.

This has resulted in a difficult and often tumultuous relationship between the two countries, with occasional violent escalation, such as the 2019 attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure blamed on Iran.

Despite the hostilities, the two countries have made a few attempts at reconciliation. There have been discussions in recent years about a possible dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with some analysts saying that resolving their disputes may help calm the area. Nonetheless, no considerable progress had been made, and the competition between the two countries remained a key cause of instability in the Middle East.

However, after seven years of tense relations, Saudi Arabia and Iran, two long-time regional foes, announced their intention to fully restore diplomatic relations on Friday, March 10, 2023.

China mediated the agreement, which allows for the reopening of embassies and diplomatic missions within two months and the reinstatement of security cooperation, trade, and investment treaties.

The joint declaration stressed state sovereignty and non-interference in internal matters, expressing Saudi Arabia’s concerns over Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and its engagement with Shia armed groups in the region. The US was brought up to date on the talks and has supported any efforts to de-escalate tensions.

The statement is a big milestone that might calm tensions and strengthen China’s rising influence in the area. Tensions between the two countries have frequently resulted in proxy wars and regional instability. Repairing diplomatic relations has the potential to lessen tensions and open up new avenues for collaboration, particularly in areas such as trade, investment, and security.

The recently announced accord may also have an impact on Yemen’s ongoing civil war, where Saudi Arabia is seeking a durable cease-fire and a way out of the battle with the Iranian-backed Houthi militia. Better relations may restrict weapons shipments to the Houthis and contribute to the end of the Yemen war.

The accord may also have an impact on the Syrian civil war, in which the Saudi monarchy has long backed Sunni factions fighting against President Bashar Assad’s government, which is backed by Iran and Russia. The agreement may have an impact on security and stability in Iraq and Lebanon, where Iranian-backed militias are operating.

Although the restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a positive move, the treaty’s long-term viability remains dubious. As the two countries’ long-standing enmity has been fuelled by historical, religious, and geopolitical issues and has lasted for decades.

While the deal may be a beneficial start toward decreasing tensions and improving regional stability, it is possible that challenges and obstacles may surface in the future, thereby jeopardising its viability.

The treaty’s success will be determined by a number of factors, including both countries’ desire to maintain their obligations, the ability to settle unresolved concerns, and the region’s broader geopolitical dynamics. Other regional and international actors, who may play a crucial role in enabling discourse and supporting stability, will also need to support and cooperate.

While the treaty is a step forward, it will most likely take time and continuous efforts from all parties involved to adequately address the underlying concerns and achieve a permanent peace. It is also unclear how this Chinese-brokered accord will impact Biden’s efforts to persuade Saudi Arabia to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. Yet, the announcement has elicited welcome reactions from Middle Eastern governments and the UN Secretary-General.

Not a good news for United States

The latest Iran-Saudi Arabia deal mediated by China can be viewed as a diplomatic loss for the United States in the Middle East. For decades, the United States has dominated the region, frequently viewed as the security guarantor for its Gulf allies. This agreement, however, illustrates China’s growing regional influence and willingness to act as a mediator in the long-standing conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The fact that China is increasingly acting as a mediator in the Middle East, while the US remains a spectator, has enormous consequences for the region’s geopolitical balance. For decades, the United States has been the dominant foreign force in the Middle East, owing to its military presence and close partnerships with important regional players such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.

China’s expanding participation in the Middle East, on the other hand, has been driven by its goal to enhance its economic and geopolitical dominance, as well as its need for oil and other resources. China has been spending extensively in infrastructure projects in the region, such as ports, motorways, and railways, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, which has helped to strengthen ties with nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

China’s expanding regional influence, along with the United States’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and diminishing presence in the Middle East, has produced a power vacuum that Beijing is well-positioned to fill. China has proved its ability to assist broker deals and resolve tensions in the area by acting as a mediator in the recent Iran-Saudi Arabia discussions, which could increase its power even further.

This development raises questions about the United States’ ability to keep its security obligations in the Middle East and preserve its interests in the region. It also emphasises the need for the US to create a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to its Middle East foreign policy, one that takes into consideration the changing dynamics of the region and China’s growing influence.

Furthermore, China’s participation as a mediator in the Iran-Saudi Arabia negotiations may have consequences for India, which has traditionally maintained close connections with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. As China’s economic and geopolitical dominance in the region grows, India may face greater pressure to take sides between China and the US, which could have serious ramifications for its own security and economic interests.

To conclude, China’s expanding role as a Middle Eastern mediator, along with the US’s diminishing influence in the region, has important consequences for the region’s power balance and the future of US foreign policy. It also raises serious concerns about the involvement of other countries, such as India, in the Middle East’s evolving geopolitical landscape.

Zahoor Ahmad Mir, Research Scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Greater Kashmir