What to expect from Iran-Saudia Arabia new relationship
After years of rivalry and tension, Saudi Arabia and Iran seem to want to start a new phase in their relationship.
The action may have regional and international effects, since in many areas and on many sides, the two nations oppose and have fought, indirectly and directly.
The two countries have supported opposing sides in various conflicts: for example, in Syria during the civil war there, and until now in the war in Yemen. In Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain, they became involved in the local politics of rival camps. Saudi officials blame Iran for some of the rocket attacks on its oil facilities in the Persian Gulf.
A new chapter
However, today, Saudi Arabia and Iran say they want to open a new page in their relationship.
There are good reasons for both to do so. In attacking each other, they hurt each other more than their enemy – both politically and economically. Furthermore, neither side was able to gain true supremacy over the other.
This realization is not new. Two years ago, representatives of Saudi Arabia and Iran were already holding private talks, recalled Sebastian Sons, senior researcher and Saudi expert at the Center for Applied Research on Cooperation with the East (CARPO), a German think tank. At the same time, it is still true that the Saudis do not trust the Iranians, he said.
“But that is exactly why the Saudi leaders have to make an agreement with Iran,” he explained. “The deal is of the highest priority for the [Saudi] kingdom.”
Tehran seems to see things the same way. The new deal is a diplomatic breakthrough for the Iranians, said Marcus Schneider, who heads the regional peace and security project at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Beirut. “For the [Iranian] regime, this is a departure from international isolation at a time when its relations with the West are deteriorating, from one low point to another,” Schneider told DW.
Increasing international isolation has certainly made a change in Iran’s outlook. With this in mind, another thing to Iran’s liking is that the Chinese supported this new brokerage.
China’s relationship with the West has also deteriorated recently. Establishing this new relationship makes China a reliable power in the Middle East, Schneider told DW. “It also serves Tehran’s interests in driving the Americans out of the region, or at least reducing their influence,” the Beirut-based expert continued.
Relations between China and Iran have been good for a long time. In early 2021, the two sides signed a trade agreement that would see China invest nearly $400 billion (€372 billion) there over the next 25 years.
Meanwhile, the Saudis have hedged their bets and distanced themselves from their traditional ally, the United States, in recent years. US leaders have criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and have been seen as insufficiently supportive when oil facilities have been attacked, allegedly by Yemeni rebels firing Iranian-made missiles.
Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it will not comply with the US request. For example, last September, at the meeting of OPEC+ oil producers, the Saudis chose not to do what the United States requested and did not push to increase production to lower oil prices.
This does not indicate that the Saudis plan to completely change course or completely distance themselves from their Western allies, Sons noted: “But you have to see that rapprochement with Iran is a very high priority in Riyadh.”
Human rights may not be improved.
Even if some of the conflicts in the Middle East would improve following the revival of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, it seems unlikely that this would have a significant impact on the poor human rights situation. The Iranian and Saudi governments routinely commit human rights abuses, imprisoning political opponents and often leading human rights organizations’ wrongdoing lists in everything from suppression of domestic media freedom to the death penalty. .
The country that reconciled the two nations – China – is also often criticized by human rights activists. Human rights issues “certainly will not play a role” in Iran or Saudi Arabia in restoring relations, Sons concluded.