China-Brokered Agreement Restores Diplomatic Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia
Iran and Saudi Arabia announced on Friday that they had agreed to restore diplomatic relations after seven years of hostility. The agreement was the result of Chinese-brokered negotiations in Beijing and marks a major diplomatic victory for China in the Gulf region.
The agreement comes as tensions between Iran and the United States are on the rise, and as the Biden administration has sought to broker a normalization pact between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have recently reported on the potential of Saudi Arabia and Israel establishing diplomatic ties as part of an expansion of former President Donald Trump’s normalization deals between Israel and Arab states, but analysts have seen little prospect of this.
The agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a major diplomatic victory for China, but it also shows the potential for other major powers to act as constructive mediators in the Middle East. Given its good relations with both governments, China is in a prime position to broker a deal that the U.S. may not have been able to procure. It is encouraging to hear that a longstanding toxic regional rivalry has become less intense.
The deal is a major diplomatic blow to the Biden administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Last summer, despite having promised to hold Saudi Arabia accountable during his presidential campaign, Biden visited the kingdom in response to the high oil prices caused by the war with Russia. Unfortunately, the US received little in return for this visit.
The agreement is also a reminder that sustained diplomatic engagement is not a reward or a concession to the other side, but a normal and necessary part of international affairs. It should have a stabilizing effect that is very much needed in the region and may help in facilitating progress towards a more lasting truce in Yemen.
The deal also suggests that Saudi Arabia is shaking off its commitment to a unipolar US world. It signals a meaningful change in how Chinese President Xi Jinping conducts Middle East policy and shows how much more effective diplomacy can be when a major power has not ensnared itself in the region’s rivalries.
The U.S. has been kept informed on the negotiations from the beginning and supports any effort to deescalate tensions in the region.
0. “Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to resume relations after China mediation” Axios, 10 Mar. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/03/10/iran-saudi-arabia-resume-relations-china-mediation
1. “Archrivals Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to end years of hostilities in deal mediated by China” CNN, 10 Mar. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/10/middleeast/saudi-iran-resume-ties-intl/index.html
2. “Why China helping Iran and Saudi Arabia make nice is a very big deal” Vox.com, 10 Mar. 2023, https://www.vox.com/world-politics/2023/3/10/23634464/deal-saudi-arabia-iran-china-explained
3. “How the US can build on more normal Iran-Saudi ties” Responsible Statecraft, 10 Mar. 2023, https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2023/03/10/how-the-us-can-build-on-more-normal-iran-saudi-ties
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5. “China brokers Iran-Saudi Arabia detente, raising eyebrows in Washington” The Washington Post, 11 Mar. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2023/03/10/china-saudi-iran-deal