By Iran Review
By Mohammad Ali Sobhani*
Developments that have taken place in relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia during recent days have raised a question in the mind of Iranians as well as foreign research institutes that follow the two countries’ relations: Can these developments be taken as a sign that the two countries have started to move in the direction of détente? In view of the changing balance in the region and the current atmosphere that has come about through Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s effective role in two rounds of Vienna talks on Syria, the Saudi government is now facing new conditions. The new hope raised about the possibility that the international community has finally reached a conclusion on the importance of a real fight against Takfiri terrorist groups and the role that the Syrian government can play until the fate of the country is determined by Syrian people through a free election is quite different from what Saudi Arabia looked forward to seeing.
As for the issue of Yemen, Saudis have failed to achieve their desired goal and the prolongation of war has left them with no choice but to pursue political options in cooperation with all other involved parties. Similarly, the long history of Saudi Arabia’s unfriendly behavior toward Iran and futility of such behavior has been possibly taken note of by officials in the Saudi government. All these factors have joined hand to make Saudi Arabia believe that it cannot realize its national interests through war, hostility and tension. I had emphasized in my previous analyses that issues in the Middle East have three international, regional and domestic dimensions. Today, the international atmosphere is asking for interaction between Iran and Saudi Arabia more than any time before in order to reduce the damage done to the region and even the entire world. Such an attitude exists even among some Arab states in the region. Domestic issues of regional countries are such that public opinion in those countries now welcomes participation of all countries in purposive and effective diplomatic talks.
The positive position taken by Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry quite recently through introduction of the kingdom’s new ambassador to Tehran should not be ignored in this regard. The free fall of global oil prices and the latest remarks by Saudi oil minister about Iran’s right to take advantage of its crude oil production quota following the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA), in addition to current tensions between Turkey, on the one hand, and Russia and Iraq, on the other, have further added to complexity of regional issues.
Under present circumstances, Saudi rulers, who are now more experienced compared to when King Salman ascended to the throne and who have also witnessed failure of their tension-creating policies, are sending positive signals to Iran. Saudi Arabia knows that occasional remarks made through some Iranian and Turkish media and tribunes about the two countries’ relations are just a temporary matter and the two countries have to cooperate on strategic issues in the region. Special human and geographic conditions in northern Iraq, Syria and southern Turkey, as well as the issue of Kurds and expansion of insecurity in the region will push Iran and Turkey to cooperate as two powerful regional countries to prevent further growth of insecurity. Iran is getting ready for post-JCPOA period and removal of sanctions imposed on it at a time that reduction in oil prices is threatening all oil-rich regional countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. In view of the social power that exists in Iran and consensus in the country’s public opinion on national issues, it was clear from the very beginning that despite all the damage that sanctions have done to Iran’s economy and people’s livelihood, they could not have a serious impact on the Iranian government. All these experiences are now before Saudi Arabia and other regional countries and will probably guide Saudi Arabia towards some sort of regional realism.
Of course, this is just the beginning and does not mean that all existing problems will be solved rapidly. There are still many unresolved cases between the two sides, ranging from the deadly incident in Mina to Saudi Arabia’s stonewalling during Iran’s nuclear negotiations, which must be addressed in due time. Explanation must be also given on Iran’s regional goals to make it clear that the Islamic Republic does not want to wage tribal and sectarian wars against Saudi Arabia and some other regional states. The important point is that solutions can be found for the existing problems through dialogue. Purposive nuclear talks, which were conducted by Dr. Zarif and his team over a period of 23 months with six world powers, proved that nobody can wait for problems to be solved before starting negotiations. We do not live in an isolated world. The realities of the modern world require us to seek diplomatic solutions to problems through win-win policy, and Iran and Saudi Arabia can also choose a win-win path toward the improvement of their relations.
*Mohammad Ali Sobhani
Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Former Director General for Middle East