Saudi Arabia – Iran Deal

Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to revive diplomatic relations and reopen embassies after seven years of tensions. The deal has been struck with the help of China.

More about the news:

  • The two regional rivals are expected to reopen embassies as they re-establish ties and a security agreement after Beijing talks.
  • Beijing maintains ties with both countries, and the breakthrough highlights its growing political and economic clout in the region which has long been shaped by the influence of the US.
Screenshot 2023 03 13 at 4.50.50 PM

Background of Iran-Saudi Arabia relations:

1.Areas of Tensions:

  • Tumultuous relationship between the two countries dates back to Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979.
  • Tensions have been high between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia broke off ties with Iran in 2016 after protesters invaded Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran. 
  • Shia-majority Iran and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia support rival sides in several conflict zones across the Middle East– Yemen, where the Houthi rebels are backed by Tehran and Riyadh leads a military coalition supporting the government. Iran and Saudi Arabia also are on rival sides in Lebanon and Syria. 

2.Recent improvements in relations between the two countries:

  • Negotiations began in Baghdad in 2021 and have taken five rounds so far.
  • Some progress has been made, but the most important or complex case is the Yemen war. Saudi Arabia has declared a unilateral cease-fire, indicating that the country is moving toward new strategies for engaging with Iran.
  • REGIONAL IMPACT:  Renewed ties could scramble geopolitics in West Asia and beyond by bringing together Saudi, a close partner of the US, with Iran, a long-time foe that US and allies consider a threat and the rising role of China in the region.
  • Rising Role of China in the Region:
  • China’s engagement in the region has for years been rooted in delivering mutual economic benefits and shunning Western ideals of liberalism that have complicated Washington’s ability to expand its presence in the Gulf.
  • China dipped its toes into Middle East diplomacy in 2013 by offering a four-point plan that rehashed old ideas for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That failed to achieve a breakthrough.
  • China is seizing on waning American influence in the region and presenting Chinese leadership as an alternative to a Washington-led order
  • China’s engagement with the region has been steadily expanding. The GCC states provide 40 percent of China’s oil imports, with Saudi Arabia alone exporting 17 percent.
  • The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been a major factor in attracting China to the region. The Saudi-China joint statement refers to the “harmonisation plan” between BRI and the Saudi “Vision-2030” that was signed during the visit.
  • With increasing role of China, important initiatives have been: the five rounds of dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran in 2021-22, Turkey’s outreach to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, and the Iraq-Jordan-Egypt consortium set up in August 2021.

3.Indian’s role in West Asia:

  • Areas of Cooperation:
  • 70 per cent of India’s imported energy needs come from West Asia and 11 million Indians working in West Asia.
  • India is the largest recipient of foreign remittances from West Asia.
  • Close cooperation with West Asia is important to prevent spread of terror outfits like Islamic State.
  • West Asia provides gate way to energy rich Central Asian region. Example: Chahbahar port in Iran.
  • Challenges:
  • India’s deepening strategic relations with Israel has been a concern for Iran. Iran hence, plays its China and Pakistan card. Iran has also supported Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir, going against India’s interests.
  • Iran is a part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative. India has been consistently opposing China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
  • ONGC ‘Videsh Limited’ played an important in discovering the Farzad B gas fields in Iran. However, Iran has not given the rights to develop the gas field to India.
  • India has to work on to balance its ties with Iran on the one hand with USA sanctions and Saudi Arabia and the USA on the other.
  • The two close partners of India like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran have reached a deal with Beijing’s influence is disquieting, given India’s current tensions with China.
  • India’s focus on the I2U2 quadrilateral along with Israel, U.S. and UAE, which may have taken the spotlight away from its ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia.
  • India has to closely watch whether Beijing takes its new role as peacemaker to other parts of the world, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict regarding which China has pitched a peace formula
  • China has also sought to emphasize a plan called the Global Security Initiative, that describes an effort to apply “Chinese solutions and wisdom” to the world’s biggest security challenge.

Way Forward

  • I2U2 is the new ‘QUAD’: The I2U2 Group is a grouping of India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. India can play crucial role as far as the region (West Asia) is concerned.
  • India can provide large workforce and leverage on its ties with UAE, the USA and Israel to balance China in the region.
  • India’s approach towards the conflicts in the region should have more clear voice and perception. Clear documents should be issued by the Indian side over this conflict, for example, over Iran and Saudi Arabia

What is Cold Peace?

  • cold peace is a state of relative peace between two countries that is marked by the enforcement of a peace treaty ending the state of war while the government or populace of at least one of the parties to the treaty continues to treat the treaty with vocal disgust domestically.
  • A cold peace is a mimetic cold war. In other words, while a cold war accepts the logic of conflict in the international system and between certain protagonists in particular, a cold peace reproduces the behavioural patterns of a cold war but suppresses acceptance of the logic of behaviour. Cold peace, while marked by similar levels of mistrust and antagonistic domestic policy between the two governments and populations, do not result in proxy wars, formal incursions, or similar conflicts.
  • A cold peace is accompanied by a singular stress on notions of victimhood for some and undigested and bitter Victory for others. The perceived victim status of one set of actors provides the seedbed for renewed conflict, while the ‘victory of the others cannot be consolidated in some sort of relatively unchallenged post-conflict order.
  • Example:
  • Egypt and Israel:
  • The Camp David Accords, the Egypt–Israel peace treaty and the aftermath of relations between Israel and Egypt are considered a modern example of cold peace. 
  • After having engaged each other in five prior wars, the populations had become weary of the loss of life, and the negotiation of the accords and the treaty were considered a high point of the Middle Eastern peace process.

However, Egyptian popular support for the treaty plummeted after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and perception of the treaty has not recovered in the Egyptian populace ever since.

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