Improving Saudi Arabia's relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, causes and outcomes

After more than 7 years of breaking diplomatic relations, in February 2022, Iran and Saudi Arabia, with the mediation of China, issued a statement in Beijing, announcing the resumption of bilateral relations and the reopening of the embassies of the two countries in the near future.
11 April 2023
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After more than 7 years of breaking diplomatic relations, in February 2022, Iran and Saudi Arabia, with the mediation of China, issued a statement in Beijing, announcing the resumption of bilateral relations and the reopening of the embassies of the two countries in the near future. In a situation where Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, announced in an interview with Al-Saudi Network in 2017 that extremism in Iran is an obstacle to dialogue between the two countries and threatened to bring the war into Iran, and also, in January 2019, the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs considered the dialogue with Iran to be useless and a waste of time, it is questionable what is the reason for the turn in the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia and the agreement to resume relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Did Saudi Arabia achieve what it wanted by breaking relations with Iran, or did regional and global policies push Riyadh to return from its previous path? Did the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia change only regarding Iran, or did it also change in relation to other countries in the region? The answer to this question is important in the sense that it can be said that Saudi Arabia's foreign policy turnaround is a long-term strategic move or a short-term tactical move to get rid of some possible foreign and domestic problems.

It seems that according to the developments in the field of international relations since 2021, especially after the Democrats came to power in America, the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia underwent changes and not only with Iran, but Saudi Arabia's relations with Qatar, Yemen, Syria and Iraq also improved. Also, the disappointment of providing security by the US and getting closer to China, Saudi Arabia's attempt to replace the pattern of confrontation instead of conflict in regional relations, and the need for stability to achieve economic development and the vision of 2030 are among the important causes for the turn of Saudi foreign policy.

Causes of the turn in Saudi foreign policy

  1. The victory of the Democrats in America:

Due to the special structure of power in Saudi Arabia, the American republican governments usually have better relations with Riyadh, and the establishment of democratic governments in the United States, which emphasize slogans such as democracy and human rights, puts Saudi Arabia under pressure, and create limitations in foreign and domestic politics. Less than a month after Biden entered the White House, Washington canceled support for the military operations of the coalition countries in Yemen and banned the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, even the arms sales contracts that were signed during Trump's time with the aim of finding a diplomatic solution to the Yemen crisis.

The Biden government also believed that the countries allied to the United States, such as Saudi Arabia, should ensure their security through regional balance. Expressing the interest of the Biden government in revitalizing the JCPOA and emphasizing the American national security strategy on focusing on China and Russia, climate change and dealing with the spread of infectious diseases and neglecting the security of countries such as Saudi Arabia and the excessive closeness of Saudi Arabia to Trump and the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi security agents was one of the factors in the negative view of the Biden government towards Saudi Arabia. It was on this basis that immediately after Biden's victory, we saw changes in Saudi Arabia's foreign policy and the improvement of that country's relations with Qatar, Yemen's Houthis, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, etc.

  1. Disappointment of providing security by America and getting closer to China:

Since 1943, when US President Roosevelt declared that the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital for the United States, the oil policy against security has become the main part of Saudi Arabia's national security strategy. In recent years, with the revelation of the end of the oil era in the not-so-distant future, America began using its strategic oil reserves and turned from an importer into one of the largest producers and even exporters of oil in the world, and no longer needed to buy Saudi oil. China's rise in power in recent years made Obama to propose the policy of withdrawing from West Asia and the need to focus on East Asia. The reduction of American forces in Iraq and the sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan are examples of America's seriousness in implementing this strategy. Also, at the peak of Saudi Arabia's relations with America during Trump's time, Washington did not take any special action to defend Saudi Arabia against Houthi missile and drone attacks on Aramco's cities and oil facilities and an Iraqi drone attack on the palace of the King of Saudi Arabia.

Disappointment from Washington's support made Riyadh's efforts to get closer to Asian countries, especially China, which has been referred to as turning to Asia. Signing a strategic partnership agreement with China, concluding economic, diplomatic and defense contracts with Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Kazakhstan and Bangladesh, Riyadh's efforts to join non-Western international organizations such as the Shanghai Organization and the BRICS bloc, Riyadh's commitment to link its 2030 vision with China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China's acceptance as a reliable mediator to improve relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, publication of some news about the acceptance of the yuan as the base currency by Saudi Arabia for oil sales, trade alliances with China, Pakistan and 4 countries, Saudi Arabia's cooperation with Russia and OPEC+ to reduce one million six hundred thousand barrels of oil, etc. is one of the most important examples of Saudi Arabia's new foreign policy strategy.

  1. Saudi Arabia's effort to replace the model of interaction-competition instead of confrontation and conflict:

In recent years, Saudi Arabia did not achieve any results in regional cases such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, etc. by adopting a strategy of conflict with Iran and the resistance front, in which there is no possibility of any cooperation. It seems that in its new foreign policy strategy, Saudi Arabia has replaced conflict with the strategy of interaction and competition, in which there is a possibility of cooperation while competing.

  1. The need for stability to carry out development projects:

The prerequisite for the implementation of Saudi Arabia's ambitious 2030 plan for the development of the country is stability in foreign relations. It seems that after achieving domestic stability and calming down the domestic inflammatory atmosphere after Mohammed bin Salman took power, Riyadh has moved towards stability and de-tension in foreign relations, and one of the important parts of this strategy is improving relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Therefore, the turn in Saudi foreign policy is not only related to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and we are witnessing a regional de-tension in Saudi foreign relations. The improvement of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia will lead to the improvement of relations with the countries of the Persian Gulf region, the Arab world, and the Islamic world, bringing the countries of the Persian Gulf region and the Middle East closer to each other, and its security will become endogenous, and even weaken the Abraham Accords and the position of the Zionist regime in the region.

Reza Mostafaei Dehnavi, an expert at the Institute for Political and International Studies

 (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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