Amid the high drama of the game of chicken playing out between a BBC Director General and a soccer superstar I don’t see blinking – see my other post today, Gary Lineker? Or H.M. Loyal Opposition? – the restoration of diplomatic ties, brokered yesterday by China between Iran and Saudi Arabia, may have passed my fellow Brits by.
It matters though.
The Guardian covered it, as did the Emir of Qatar’s Al-jazeera. Both have reasons to downplay it (one being the boost to Damascus) yet neither can ignore it entirely. Both pieces therefore merit a read. But for the best summary of what emerged yesterday from Beijing – the winners and losers in particular – I’m again indebted to steel city reader Dave Hansell. ‘Twas he tipped me off to this Moon of Alabama piece:
This is huge!
The deal, which will see the two countries reopen embassies in each other’s capitals, was sealed during a meeting in China and announced Friday in a joint communique.
Archrivals Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed Friday to restore diplomatic relations, a dramatic breakthrough brokered by China after years of soaring tensions between the regional rivals.The deal, which will see the two countries reopen embassies in each other’s capitals, was sealed during a meeting in China — a boost to Beijing’s efforts to rival the United States as a broker on the global stage.
The agreement also may put a dampener Israel’s ongoing efforts to normalize relations with its Arab neighbors.
The talks were held because of a “shared desire to resolve the disagreements between them through dialogue and diplomacy, and in light of their brotherly ties,” according to a joint communique from Tehran, Riyadh and Beijing that was published by the Saudi Press Agency, the country’s official news agency.
The agreement followed intensive negotiations between Ali Shamkhani, a close adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni, and Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, according to the statement.
It added that the foreign ministers from both countries would “meet to implement this, arrange for the return of their ambassadors, and discuss means of enhancing bilateral relations.”
The joint statement by Saudi Arabia, Iran and China is here:
In response to the noble initiative of His Excellency President Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, of China’s support for developing good neighborly relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran;And based on the agreement between His Excellency President Xi Jinping and the leaderships in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, whereby the People’s Republic of China would host and sponsor talks between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran;
Proceeding from their shared desire to resolve the disagreements between them through dialogue and diplomacy, and in light of their brotherly ties; …
Congrats to China for nudging this deal forward and making it possible.
There are winners and losers in this. The winners are:
- Iran, which will now be even more able to break through the sanctions wall the U.S. has put up around it.
- Saudi Arabia, which now will likely be able to end its disastrous and costly war on Yemen.
- China, for outplaying the U.S. State Department by achieving this.
- Iraq, Syria, Yemen as they will become more peaceful as the two middle powers influencing policies on their grounds end their rivalry.
The losers are:
- Israel, because the chances for its attempts to get the U.S. into a war with Iran are now diminished. Its hoped for coalition with the Saudis will not come into being.
- The U.S. for having been outplayed on its traditional ‘home grounds’ in the Middle East.
- Anti-Iran hawks everywhere.
- The Emirates for losing at least some of the sanction busting trade with Iran to Saudi Arabia.
This renewal of relations will change the Middle East:
Tensions between Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is majority Shiite, have dominated the region for decades.The two countries have been locked in an intensifying struggle for dominance, their rivalry exacerbated by proxy conflicts, including the war in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the site of its two holiest cities, has historically seen itself as the leader of the Muslim world. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 shook Saudi Arabia and other Gulf kingdoms, which saw the regime in Tehran as a rival.
While tensions brewed for years, Saudi Arabia broke off ties in 2016 after protesters stormed Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran and set fire to the embassy in Tehran.
Days earlier, Saudi Arabia had executed the prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Press TV cites Shamkhani as saying, after signing the deal, that:
Clearing up the misunderstandings and looking to the future in Tehran-Riyadh relations will definitely lead to the development of regional stability and security and the increase of cooperation between the countries of the Persian Gulf and the Islamic world to manage the existing challenges.
In 2016 I describe the killing of Nimr al-Nimr as a smart move in the sense of Saudi domestic realpolitik. 1 But I also said that it would lead to escalating costs in Saudi Arabia’s regional policies, predominantly in Yemen. That indeed proved to be the case.
Reviving relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran will make a lot of new things possible.
That Iran and Saudi Arabia accepted China’s mediation is a recognition of Beijing’s new standing in world policies. That alone is enough reason for the White House to hate the deal.
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- Given the simplistic way our systemically corrupt media and knuckleheaded (at best) politicians play on our desire for Janet and John divisions of the world into goodies and baddies, MoA’s assessment of those Saudi executions may seem chillingly callous. To which I note two things: one, MoA is not approving the beheadings but assessing their realpolitik. Two, the executed were by no means the innocents it suited us to believe. The 2016 piece he cites is short and worth a read.