China Brokers Agreement Between Iran And Saudi Arabia – OpEd
After four days of talks in Beijing, both Tehran and Riyadh agreed to reestablish relations and open up embassies in their respective countries following seven years of hostilities.
The three countries — Iran, Saudi Arabia and China — issued a joint statement on Friday that the two Middle Eastern nations had agreed to resume diplomatic relations between them and re-open their embassies and missions within a period not exceeding two months.
“The three countries expressed their keenness to exert all efforts towards enhancing regional and international peace and security,” they added, according to a copy of the statement tweeted out by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Saudi Arabia and Iran also expressed their appreciation and gratitude to China for hosting the successful talks, as well as to Iraq and Oman for hosting previous efforts.
Riyadh severed diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2016, after protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Iran in response to Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
The two Middle Eastern powers have frequently been at odds with one another, backing opposite sides in the region’s conflicts, including the long drawn-out Yemeni and Syrian civil wars.
The announcement was a major diplomatic and political win for China, whose top diplomat, Wang Yi, hailed it as a victory and said Beijing, would continue to address global issues.
Jonathan Fulton, a nonresident senior fellow for Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council, said the deal may lead to something positive or it may fizzle.
“It’s too early to proclaim it anything other than a good first step,” Fulton wrote in an analysis. “It is, however, significant as China’s first major foray into regional diplomacy. Beijing has been signaling since at least last January that it is willing to promote a non-US centered vision of the Middle East, and this is a sign of things to come.”
The US role in the Middle East remains under question as some nations in the region see Washington slowly pulling out after the 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan and downsizing in Syria.
Also, tensions with Iran have soared and relations with Saudi Arabia are frosty after the killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The White House dismissed those concerns as National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters the US is not stepping back from its role in the region.
Meanwhile, US President Biden welcomed the easing of tensions in the Middle East.
Alex Vatanka, the director of the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute, pumped the brakes on China’s victory lap, telling The Hill the agreement might not be a major loss for Washington in the long term.
“It symbolically makes the United States look like it’s not able to be a key player,” he said. “But it’s not going to be a Chinese-dominated Middle East.”