Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Chinese deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia turns Middle East diplomacy upside down and challenges the US.

There is finally an agreement for peace in the Middle East. Not between Israel and the Arabs, but between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who have been at odds for decades. And the mediators were not the Arabs but the Chinese. A new geographical mission at Washington, on the sides.

This was one of the smoothest and most disruptive developments anyone could have imagined, which shook the heads of the rest of the world. Societies and struggles that had been in arms for generations were turned on their head, at least for the moment.

Americans, who have been the central players in the Middle East for the past three-quarters of a century, almost always the ones in the room where things happen, now find themselves on the sidelines in a time of significant change.

The Chinese, who for years played only a secondary role in the country, suddenly became a new powerhouse of players. And the Israelis, who have been rooting for the Saudis against their mutual adversaries in Tehran, are now wondering where this new development leaves them.

Chinese diplomat Wang Yi opened the historic opening ceremony of the rapprochement between Iran and the Saudi kingdom, a significant regional and global geopolitical shift. AFP

“This is a big problem,” acknowledges Amy Hawthorne, deputy director of research for the Middle East Democracy Project, a nonprofit group in Washington. “Yes, the United States was not negotiating with Iran, since we don’t have relations.”

“But in a broader sense, the importance of China’s achievement in the new diplomatic agreement and the dwarfing of any role of the United States in the country Biden has taken.”

The White House officially welcomed the restoration of diplomatic relations between Arabia and Iran and expressed no concerns about Beijing’s role in bringing the two back together. Privately, Joe Biden’s aides suggested that too much was being done for the breach and the disingenuous suggestions that it meant an erosion of American influence in the region.

Incidentally, after decades of hostilities, Iran and Saudi Arabia’s decision to reopen their embassies, which were closed in 2016, represents only the first step. It does not mean that Riyadh Sunnis and Tehran Shiites have all put aside their deep and visceral differences.

The key to the deal, according to what the Saudis told the Americans, was Iran’s commitment to stop further attacks on Saudi Arabia and reduce support for militant groups against the kingdom.

old struggles

Iran and Saudi Arabia have effectively waged a devastating war in Yemen, where Tehran-aligned Houthi rebels have fought Saudi forces for eight years. Hostilities were largely halted last year after a ceasefire with the support of the United Nations and the Biden administration.

In the first year, the UN estimated that more than 377,000 people died during the war from violence, starvation or disease. At the same time, the Houthis fired hundreds of missiles and armed drones at Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Biden once vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state by orchestrating the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, according to a US-based Saudi column for The Washington Post. But he reluctantly agreed to visit the kingdom last year, when oil prices skyrocketed as Russia sought to lower Ukraine’s invasion.

Now Riyadh is turning to the Chinese. “Some in the Gulf clearly see this as a Chinese century,” said Steven A. Cook, a Middle East scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The Saudis have expressed interest in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (led by Beijing) and much of their oil goes to China.”

“It’s a sign of the agility of the Chinese in some of the anger directed at the United States of Saudi Arabia and there’s a bit of a vacuum there,” he said. “But I like that the Saudis and the Iranians have been talking for a while,” he said.

China aligned Saudi Arabia with Iran at this time when Israel hoped the US would align it with Saudi Arabia. Since establishing diplomatic relations with other Gulf states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Israel

Such a move would mark a fundamental change for Israel with its long hostile neighborhood. But they asked the Saudis what they were willing to give to Vienna. In exchange for opening formal ties with Israel, the Saudis demanded security guarantees from the US, aid for civilian nuclear development and fewer restrictions on arms sales.

With Iran, although hostilities in Yemen have subsided, the Biden administration negotiated a nuclear peace deal with Tehran in 2015 by President Barack Obama and later backed by Donald Trump.

For two years they have stalled diplomacy and the UN watchdog has now enriched Iran enough uranium to build more nuclear weapons if it so chooses, although it still has a perfect war.

Chinese president xi jinping is seeking to gain ground in strategic areas that have been abandoned by the united states. Afp

Chinese President Xi Jinping is seeking to gain ground in strategic countries that the United States has abandoned. AFP

Iran, hindered by US sanctions, has moved to deepen its relationship with Russia and now China. Tehran provided much needed drones for Russia to use in the war in Ukraine.

Not for a coalition with the Saudis against Iran

By turning to Beijing for mediation with the Saudis, Iran is elevating China in the region and trying to escape Washington-imposed isolation. And Israel finds its hope in an anti-Iranian coalition with Saudi Arabia clearly allied.

Biden administration officials say Iran is suffering under real pressure and deep economic trouble because of US sanctions. But that also does not mean that China, one of the signatories to the original nuclear treaty, wants a Persian power to have nuclear weapons.

If Beijing has new pressure on Tehran, US officials hope it can use it to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. However, it is uncertain for many veteran US lawmakers to see China playing such a large role in the region after years of gains.

China is seeking its military bases in a region that seeks energy and wealth and power beyond Asia. The decision to get involved in the rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran makes it clear that another player must be considered. The regional order is changing.

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World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Desk
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