How much ice is melting between KSA-Iran relations? | By Hafizur Talukdar


How much ice is melting between KSA-Iran relations?

SAUDI Arabia and Iran, two major powers in the Muslim world, have been in talks for some time to improve relations.

A few days ago, the fourth round was completed in Iraq. There have been reports of one-sided talks in the United States during the UN session.

But nothing is being said about what is being discussed, how much progress is being made in this discussion.

However, both sides are acknowledging the talks. The talks have not yet begun at the formal diplomatic level.

The top will be at the policy-making level maybe more later. Talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran are at the same level as the two countries, which are at loggerheads over complex relations, entered the formal stage after holding back-channel talks.

Intelligence officials from the two countries are likely to continue the talks, with some of the former intelligence officials reportedly involved conflict background and initiative to resolve

First, the decades-long conflict between them is exacerbated by religious differences. They each follow one of the two main branches of Islam. Iran is predominantly Shia Muslim, while Saudi Arabia sees itself as a Sunni Muslim power.

Historically, Saudi Arabia, a monarchy and the birthplace of Islam, has seen itself as the leader of the Muslim world. However, it was challenged after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Through this revolution a new kind of state was created in the region which had a clear goal of exporting this model outside its own borders.

Second, Saudi Arabia and Iran have long been involved in a fierce battle for regional dominance as part of the regional Cold War.

The uprising around the Arab world (after the Arab Spring in 2011) caused political instability throughout the region.

Iran and Saudi Arabia seek to exploit these uprisings to increase their influence, which in turn increases mutual suspicion and mistrust, especially in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.

In addition, external powers such as the United States and Israel play a major role in fuelling the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Third, Iran and Saudi Arabia are not fighting directly but they are involved in various proxy wars around the region through the support of rival parties and militias, for example, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, a country bordering Saudi Arabia.

The more capacity such groups can achieve, the more instability there may be in the region. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supporting the Houthis.

There are a number of reasons behind Iran’s efforts to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. One of them is the implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision-2030 strategy. The country wants to shift from an oil-dependent state to an industrial trade and tourism-dependent economy.

Under the vision 2030 strategy, targeted reforms are planned in the country’s economy, defense, tourism and renewable energy. In the context of Covid-19, Saudi Arabia understands that de-escalation with Iran is especially needed to attract large investment.

Compromise on the regional front is also one of the goals of developing relations. Continuing the current conflict means that at any time, Saudi sovereignty and integrity will be compromised.

Houthis in Yemen are being targeted by Saudi airstrikes. Similarly, Houthi missiles from Yemen are reaching Riyadh. The country’s most important oil installations are not immune. In this situation, there is no alternative to compromise between the two powers.

The withdrawal of US troops from the region is also an important issue. The arrival of US President Joe Biden’s Administration and the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, as well as a greater focus on the Indo-Pacific region, mean that American support for Saudi security will not be as strong as it once was.

The Trump Administration wanted the Jewish State to provide the necessary support for Riyadh’s security if Israel’s relations with Saudi Arabia were normalized.

With Trump losing the election, that reckoning is no more. As a result, US-Israeli security concerns remain risky. This could be a factor in softening Saudi Arabia’s position on Iran.

This realization leads to various regional initiatives to bridge the gap between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia is also involved in the process of establishing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Arab League.

Iran has welcomed the move. Normal relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia could have a number of implications. The warming of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia could have a positive impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At the same time, it has the potential to stabilize the oil market. Iran and Saudi Arabia will be able to share a common interest in stabilizing oil prices in their economies.

The normalization of relations between the two major oil-producing countries will ensure stable oil revenues for oil producing countries and present more reliable forecasts to the economic planners of both.

A clear position on US sanctions on Iran would be crucial to normalizing Iran-Saudi Arabia relations. In that case, Riyadh would no longer support sanctions on Iran. Iran’s diplomatic support for a ceasefire in Yemen could signal its diplomatic efforts to end the war.

How much ice is melting: The iceberg between Saudi Arabia and Iran is melting and could lead to a new bilateral relationship.

In fact, the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries will send a message to this larger region that Iran is a regional power with which we must fight.

This comment was made by Sanam Vakil, Deputy Director of the Middle East North Africa Program at London-based think tank Chatham House.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had held four “continuous” round of talks so far, although both sides agreed to keep it secret.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amirabadullah has said the talks are moving in the right direction.

An Iranian trade official went one step further, saying it could even provide trade opportunities for Iranian traders in Saudi Arabia.

According to France 24 TV, however, the five-year rift and the healing of mutual suspicions over the past few decades will take more than a positive signal.

Agence France-Presse news agency quoted an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wanted to end its costly dispute with Tehran. The parties have agreed to reopen the Consular Offices.

Middle Eastern politics has many complex equations. The big regional player here is Israel. One of the main aspects of the country’s strategy is to make neighbouring Muslim countries dependent on Tel Aviv for security.

Since the adoption of this policy in the 1980s, almost all the powerful countries in the Middle East have somehow collapsed or are facing disaster.

The names of Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya are particularly noteworthy in this case. Even then, some powerful countries in the Muslim world want to end the conflict between the OIC member states.

Although late, both Riyadh and Tehran are responding. If they really want to, the current situation of giving advantage to the enemy by fighting on their own can come to an end.

An Iran-Saudi deal would make a big difference in the Middle East game, and no country would need to swear to Israel for its own security.

—The writer is working as a teacher (Department of Political Science) at a school in Dhaka.

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