Ice Melting In Iran-Saudi Relations – OpEd


Saudi King Muhammad Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 strategy is to create a more diverse and sustainable economy and to build KSA’s role as an integral driver of international trade and to connect three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe. KSA has implemented its strategy by establishing relations with its neighboring states. Therefore, ice between the two powerful countries of the Middle East, Iran and Saudi Arabia is melting as they have decided to bridge the decades old differences between them. For this purpose informal meeting and secret talks at low level have been held between both states. Pakistan has been making efforts for peace between both states for a long time. The stability and cordial relations between two states will positively affect Middle East as well as the whole region.

Since the US President Biden came into the power on January 20, 2021, diplomatic efforts to break the ice between longtime regional rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have been intensified. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has played a key role in bringing the both state on negotiation table and hosted more than one round of talks between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

Baghdad hosted first talks between officials from its two neighbours and mutual adversaries on 9 April, 2021. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told in an interview to Al Arabica TV in April 2021 that it wants “good relations” with its arch-rival Iran. He also highlighted that it had an issue with “Iran’s negative behavior, citing its nuclear programme, missile launches and support for “outlaw militias. Saudi Arabia along with its regional and global partners will overcome these issue by maintaining good relations with Iran.  

Iraq hosted a regional conference on 28 August 2021 aimed at easing tensions in the Middle East while emphasizing the Arab country’s new role as a mediator. The meeting was attended by the Foreign Ministers of Iran and KSA. According to Media reports, the first three meetings between Foreign Ministers of Iran and KSA were held in Iraq and the fourth meeting was held on 21 September 2021, the meeting place has not been disclosed. However, the Iranian Foreign Minister confirmed that these discussions are still in the exploratory phase, and would lay the foundation to address issues between the two sides.

Though, there are several motives behind new peace developments between KSA and Iran. The first and foremost is to implement Saudi Arabia’s 2030 strategy. That would shift an oil-dependent state to an industrial trade and tourism-dependent economy. Secondly, in the context of Covid-19, Saudi Arabia believes that de-escalation with Iran is essential to attract large investment. Thirdly, KSA and Iran represents the large number of Muslim population based on the leading Sunni and Shia ideology. Both States have been involved in proxy wars across the Middle East region. This new development will have positive impact in the region. Fourthly, US has withdrew its forces from Afghanistan and the Biden administration do not see Iran as an existential threat in Middle East. Now US has focused more on Indo-Pacific region and Biden has not shown any warmth to KSA King Muhammad Bin Salman. This is also the reason of softening Saudi Arabia’s position on Iran.

It indicates that the new peace development between Iran-KSA can bridge a gap among them. As Iran has appreciated the KSA’s move in the process of establishing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Arab League.  Israel has been taking advantage of rift between KSA and Iran in the past. Such rifts are detrimental to regional peace, normal relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia could also have a positive impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Simultaneously, Iran and Saudi Arabia will be able to share a common interest in stabilizing oil prices in their economies.

Pakistan has always maintained neutrality while establishing relations between Iran and KSA and has played a mediatory role in bringing both states closer to each other.  KSA and Iran are important countries for Pakistan, Iran being a neighbour and KSA being the leader of the Arab world/Muslim Ummah and OIC. Any rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran is certainly a very positive development for Pakistan.  Pakistan continue to collaborate closely to enhance cooperation with both states diverse fields.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has praised the leadership role of King Muhammad bin Salman in promoting Islamic unity.  Prime Minister Imran and COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa has also admired the Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Strategy. Pakistan believes that peace in the Middle East is important for the security of the region and it will decrease the spillover effects of sectarian and ethnic conflict from the neighboring states. Pakistan believes that peaceful Middle East is important for the security of the region and it will decrease the spillover effects of sectarian and ethnic conflict from the neighboring states.  

* The writer is an Islamabad based analyst and can be reached at [email protected]

Saima Afzal

Saima Afzal is an Islamabad-based analyst and holds an MPhil in Peace and Conflict studies.

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