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Thursday, June 1, 2023
OpinionThe future of Tehran-Riyadh relations

The future of Tehran-Riyadh relations


The successful holding of the fifth round of talks between the High Representatives of Iran and Saudi Arabia, hosted by Baghdad, after a six-month break from the last round of talks in September 1400, paints a clearer picture of the prospects for bilateral and regional relations.

The positive assessment of the Iranian and Iraqi sides of the talks, along with the official statement by Saudi foreign minister that emphases on neighborly relations  and the fact that the two countries will remain neighbors forever and can not destroy each other, shows the ground for holding the sixth round of talks and reaching an agreement. More is being provided on the revival of bilateral relations.

Over the past year, talks between Iran and Saudi  have been held by security and intelligence officials, which are expected to be held in the next round by political officials, namely foreign ministers. An important step that promises progress in the negotiations and the transfer of talks from the security level to the stage of political meetings, which can be the preparations for the reopening of the embassies and consulates of the two countries in Mashhad and Jeddah.

In the meantime, the answer to two questions is important. First, why are the Iran-Saudi Arabia talks ongoing despite the suspension of  the Barjam revival talks? Second, with the revival of bilateral relations, will the regional relations between Tehran and Riyadh return to normal and a pattern of normal competition, or will it remain in a state of ashes?

Despite the emphasis of Western and even Iranian officials and analysts on the link between the Barjam revival talks and regional talks, it should be said that despite the element of influence of these two models of talks, but with more emphasis we can say that the shaping trends to the Iran-Saudi talks and The variables involved in it are not significantly and completely dependent on the impetus for the Barjam negotiations. Especially for Saudi Arabia, where many believed that it would be impossible for Riyadh to negotiate with Tehran and reopen embassies until Barjam concludes.

But the Yemeni crisis , America’s creation, and the succession variable in Saudi Arabia are three elements that have prompted Saudi decision-makers to defuse regional tensions, especially with Iran and Turkey. This means that the seven years of war of attrition in Yemen have not only left no gains for Mohammed bin Salman, but the Yemeni field equations have moved in a direction where Riyadh cannot even achieve its half-baked interests. The two-month ceasefire  and the formation of the Yemeni Presidential Council to hold talks with Ansar al-Islam are part of an emergency that Riyadh has long denied.

On the other hand, US President Joe Biden’s relationship with the Saudi Crown Prince MBS are relatively colder after a warm period of relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States during the Trump era have revived the old debates about reviewing relations with the United States in the Saudi court and the need to strengthen relations.

Talk to China and Russia

Riyadh-Beijing’s $ 78 billion trade experience in 2020 illustrates part of this emerging reality. In addition, Biden’s request to increase Saudi oil production and balance the energy market, which has been hit by the Ukraine crisis , met with Saudi silence and the need to adhere to the OPEC-Plus agreement.

The third element that has given this space a more realistic shape to Saudi Arabia’s pattern of behavior is the possible timing of the replacement and transfer of power, which must take place in an atmosphere of stability and away from internal and regional tensions. The closure of the case of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi , a Saudi journalist who was forgotten during  Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Saudi Arabia and the embrace of Muhammad bin Salman, is part of Riyadh’s regional de-escalation process.

It is from this perspective that the Iran-Saudi dialogue continues despite the suspension of the Barjam revival talks, and according to the officials involved in the sixth round of talks, it will be held soon.

It is in this context that the second question emerges and presents the perspective of these dialogues, especially the regional relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia . In response, it should be said that the realistic expectation of these talks is a return to bilateral relations before the unilateral severance of diplomatic relations by Saudi Arabia in 2016, which can significantly help improve Hajj pilgrimage, tourism and trade between the two countries; Even if regional relations remain in a state of cold peace, despite the crisis overflowing and the two countries transitioning from pervasive tensions. Because resolving regional issues is not simply a return to bilateral relations due to the multiplicity of variables, it is a complex and time-consuming process that requires a trust-building process.

However, years of experience with regional tensions and their implications for the two countries’ economies have reinforced the perception among decision-makers that reaching a minimum understanding of open regional issues is an essential element in better managing tensions and avoiding the cycle of turmoil and crisis.

Copyright © 2023 The Eastern Herald.

Qamar Munawer
Qamar Munawer
Associate Editor at The Eastern Herald.


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