How dare they "get along" along without our blessing!
I'm shocked. Is nothing sacred anymore? The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Or that was until those Turbanheads started dating the Iranians!
China-Brokered Deal Between Iran, Saudi Arabia Marks a New Middle East
The region is undergoing tectonic geopolitical shifts as Arab spring-fueled rivalries fade
By David S. Cloud in Dubai and Austin Ramzy in Hong Kong, WSJ
March 11, 2023 2:20 pm ET
China’s brokering of a detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia accelerates a geopolitical realignment in the Middle East, as rivalries that erupted during the Arab Spring fade and outside powers besides the U.S. vie for influence.
The restoration of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Riyadh, announced Friday in Beijing after years of enmity between the two capitals, reflects the new reality: With Washington increasingly preoccupied in Ukraine and Asia, the region is trying to move past its old divisions, resolving conflicts and easing tensions.
Along with the Saudi-Iran rapprochement, Turkey is normalizing relations with Riyadh after they were all but severed following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. And Qatar has healed a five-year-old rupture with its Persian Gulf neighbors.
Israel is deepening its Arab ties, even as its conflict with the Palestinians heats up. And the region’s major Sunni governments are reaching out to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, long estranged from his neighbors over his brutal civil war.
Much of this reconciliation is happening without U.S. involvement, a sharp break with recent decades. Chastened by its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington is pulling back from its dominant role in the region, creating doubts among longtime allies about its security guarantees.
Needing weapons for its war in Ukraine, Russia has forged deeper military relations with Iran, and China has emerged as the world’s largest oil importer, which gives it a growing stake—and clout—in seeking stability in the conflict-ridden Middle East.
After years of acting as an oil consumer and otherwise mostly staying out of the region’s disputes, Beijing is intent on showing it offers something different than the U.S.—the ability to talk to all sides without lecturing them on human rights, an attractive prospect for the region’s many authoritarian regimes.
Unlike the U.S., which doesn’t have formal diplomatic relations with Iran, China has close diplomatic and economic ties with both Tehran and Riyadh. It is Iran’s biggest trade partner and a leading buyer of oil from Saudi Arabia, giving it leverage with both sides.
“China doesn’t have the capacity to play a bigger security role in the region,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a London think tank. But the deal to restore diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia “foreshadows its potential to be an appealing alternative to Washington.”
China increasingly fears Washington’s goal is to isolate it, heightening Beijing’s longstanding concern about access to energy and driving it to take a more active role in the Middle East, analysts said.
In China, Iran has an outside power to help ease its economic woes and internal unrest, and the deal with Saudi Arabia adds another factor for its clerical rulers to consider as it weighs whether to build nuclear weapons.
Riyadh’s goal is to clear away as much as possible the threat from Iran, so its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, can focus on a plan to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil by attracting foreign investment and boosting domestic consumption.
“There is so much happening that they need a clear frontier, and they’ll go to whoever gives them that—the Americans, the Chinese, or a mix of both,” said Bader al-Saif, an expert on Persian Gulf and Arabian affairs at Kuwait University.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping to the capital Riyadh late last year.
PHOTO: BANDAR AL-JALOUD/SAUDI ROYAL PALACE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
U.S. officials say the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a positive development, one that could advance its own goal of preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons, and they have voiced little concern about China’s growing diplomatic intervention in the region.
The U.S.’s pre-eminent position in the region was underscored Saturday with news that the Saudi sovereign-wealth fund plans to buy a large number of Boeing Co. jets for a new national airline, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Re-establishing diplomatic relations isn’t likely to immediately lessen the longstanding security and sectarian tensions that have divided Riyadh and Tehran for decades and fueled their competition for regional dominance, analysts said.
Nor is there much prospect that Beijing could displace the U.S. as the main outside power in the region, said Mr. Saif. The U.S. military presence in the region has shrunk in recent years, but even its smaller footprint gives it clout that China can’t begin to match, analysts say.
“Beijing recognizes it needs to move faster to counter what they see as containment,” said Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore. “If it is indeed containment, the model that they’ve used, where they rely on the U.S. to maintain stability in the Middle East, they might not be able to trust that so much going forward.”
When Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited the Persian Gulf in December, he didn’t even stop in Tehran, which triggered a backlash in Iran. China and the Gulf Cooperation Council, a Saudi-led group of Arab monarchies, issued a joint statement that called on Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency over its nuclear program and negotiate over islands in the Persian Gulf that are also claimed by the United Arab Emirates.
The trip stirred fears in Iran that it was being isolated. He then hosted President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran in China last month in a visit that shored up ties, paving the way for the unannounced talks in Beijing this week.
The success of the Middle East effort, which was carried out in secrecy, contrasts with China’s more public diplomatic push in Ukraine. A month ago it released a 12-point position paper calling for a cease-fire and talks, which was criticized by American and European officials as sticking too close to Russia’s side to offer a workable solution.
As Iranian and Saudi officials were meeting in secret in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang was speaking to reporters at a press conference for the National People’s Congress. The focus was his blunt warning that the U.S.’s approach toward China risked confrontation and conflict. But he also offered a message about China’s ambitions for diplomacy in the Middle East.
“China will continue to stand for justice and support countries in this region in seeking political settlement of hot spot issues through dialogue and consultation,” he said. “China fully respects Middle Eastern countries as the masters of their own affairs. We have no intention to fill a so-called vacuum. And we will not build exclusive circles.”
Friday’s deal, if all sides honor it, marks another chapter in a reordering of the region’s relationships after more than a decade of turmoil that began with the uprisings in 2011 known as the Arab Spring. Many of the conflicts that subsequently arose have ended or are at a standstill.
Still, new rivalries are beginning to emerge. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate, long staunch allies, have had intense disagreements over oil-production policy and the end of the war in Yemen.
Write to David S. Cloud at email@example.com and Austin Ramzy at firstname.lastname@example.org