James Jay Carafano
Last week Saudi Arabia and Iran announced re-establishing diplomatic relations in an agreement mediated by China. As part of the agreement, Riyadh and Tehran will reopen embassies within two months and revive a 2001 security pact to cooperate on terrorism, drug-smuggling, money-laundering, and trade and technology cooperation.
Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran in 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran over the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia. Since, Saudi Arabia has been in a proxy war with Iran in Yemen as Iran pressures its Sunni allies in Lebanon and Iraq. This deal seems like a reversal of direction for both sides.
Here is our thinking on what this all means.
Will the deal work? Iran has not historically honored such commitments and have since the 1979 revolution has held the position that the Sunni House of al Saud is an illegitimate custodian of the holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina, suggesting that this agreement is at best transactional and may well be transitory.
More concerningly, the Biden administration seems to have been taken completely unawares by this development and the implication that China is emerging as a regional interlocutor of choice, and has had no material response.
This does raise questions about future U.S. and Chinese influence in the Middle East and the future of the Abraham Accords, adding uncertainty at a time when there are other rising concerns including the potential for a post-Abbas regime in the Palestinian territories dominated by pro-Iranian terrorist groups, and the potential of an Israeli preemptive attack on Iranian nuclear weapons facilities.
So what are the implications of a deal? There are concerns that normalization between Iran and Saudi Arabia will weaken Iran’s regional isolation and mark the rise of China as a global power in the Middle East.