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Iran-Saudi Peace Deal: How China’s West Asia Appeasement Might Benefit India

Rivalry, conflict or tension between the Gulf nations is a threat to India's interest, security & stability.

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On 10 March, Iran and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to resume diplomatic ties after years of hostility that negatively affected regional peace and security in West Asia from Syria to Yemen. China mediated the deal in secrecy and announced it in Beijing after successful talks between top security officials from the two adversary powers of West Asia.

In the agreement, the Islamic Republic and the Kingdom agreed on the following terms:

1. Re-open their embassies within two months.

2. Respect for each other's sovereignty.

3. The activation of security cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iran which was signed in 2001.

4. Activation of the cooperation agreement in economics, trade, investment, technology, science, culture, sports, and youth sectors signed in 1998.

5. Promote regional and international peace and security.

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In 2016, the Kingdom cut diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic due to an attack on its embassy in Tehran after Riyadh executed a Shi'ite cleric named Nimr al-Nimr. In 2019, the relationship between these two countries witnessed a further setback after Riyadh accused Tehran of drone and missile attacks on its oil facilities and tankers in the Gulf which were later denied by Iranian authorities.

The origin and major principles of international relations are based on diplomatic relations among the nations. The agreement illustrates an excellent diplomatic victory for Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China, as dialogue is essential for good diplomacy.

After several rounds of talks over the past two years in Iraq and Oman, the channels of communication and negotiation between the two rival states continued. Hence, keeping the talks open without increasing regional animosity is considered exceptional diplomacy, underlined by the latest developments in the West Asia region.
Snapshot
  • China mediated the deal between Iran and Saudi in secrecy and announced it in Beijing after successful talks.

  • It is an excellent diplomatic victory for West Asia nations as it keeps communication channels open between the two rival states.

  • Economically crippled and isolated by the western sanctions, especially by the US, Iran is also searching for new friends and trading partners in the region and beyond.

  • Establishing regional security and political stability was also essential for Saudi Arabia to implement its project 'Vision 2030.'

  • India has a cardinal relationship with the Gulf nations. Stable Gulf is in the interests of India. Regional peace, security, and stability will further boost India’s existing economic, trade, and investments in West Asia.

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Possible Reasons Behind the Saudi-Iran Agreement

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran are neighbouring nations in West Asia, having several common religious, cultural, historical and civilisational ties. Under Mohammad Bin Salman's (MBS) leadership, the Kingdom is on the path to social change and de-escalation, sensing its role and responsibility in promoting regional and international peace and security by enhancing the horizons of cooperation.

Economically crippled and isolated by the western sanctions, especially by the US, Iran is also searching for new friends and trading partners in the region and beyond. The cultural, religious, and historical proximity with Riyadh along with Chinese interest in the region provided fertile ground for this agreement.

The growing proximity between the US and Israel against the Iranian Nuclear program poses a severe threat of future attacks on Iran. The normalisation of relations among Arab states through the Abraham Accords—Bahrain, UAE, and Israel also created a sense of anxiety in Iran. These developments compelled it to search for a friendly nation in the region which may have resulted in the normalisation of the relationship between the two countries.

The withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan and weak leadership in Washington under the Biden administration raised questions about the US's credibility in the region. The visit by President Biden to Saudi Arabia in July last year, yielded less for the US than it was anticipated, as Saudi Arabia supported Russia in the oil production cuts.

Establishing regional security and political stability was also essential for Saudi Arabia to implement its project 'Vision 2030.' The rise of multipolarity fueled by post-American order provides traditional US allies with some space to explore alternative international options to serve their national interests.
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China’s Role As Peace-Broker

On the other hand, China was under pressure to normalise relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia for its economic interests. China has robust trade relations in the Gulf region. In terms of statistics, the Chinese have bilateral trade worth USD 87.3 billion with Saudi Arabia in 2021 and procure 18% of its crude oil needs from the Kingdom.

Last year, during Xi's visit to Riyadh, China signed thirty-four agreements regarding green energy, information technology, cloud services, transport, logistics, medical industries, housing and construction. With Iran, China signed a '25-Years of strategic cooperation agreement' in 2021. Further, the first visit of Iranian President Raisi last month, resulted in twenty agreements to boost cooperation in additional security, economic, and infrastructure sectors.

The mutual self-interests of these countries may have compelled the the unprecedented rapprochement between the two rival West Asian powers. The tremendous pressure on China to balance relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia may have forced it to leave its traditional role of neutrality and acquire a comparatively newer peace-broker role in the region.

The normalisation of relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can also be interpreted as a counter-move to the Abraham Accords. Through the Accords, the Arab states (Bahrain and UAE) repaired their relationship with Israel, mediated by the US. Both agreements have certain similarities: First, the mediating parties of both agreements are global powers, the US and China, with substantial influence in the region, Second, the purpose of both agreements is to restore the relationship among rival states in the region to bring peace to West Asia.

Third, scholars of International Relations anticipated that the Abraham Accords would bring economic cooperation and people-to-people connections among the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel, which it did. In the same way, there is an anticipation that re-establishing diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia would boost economic and political cooperation in the region.

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Possible Impacts on Israel and the US

For Israel, the agreement came as a surprise move, especially to the Netanyahu government which is believed to be much more rigid and critical towards Iran. Israel, along with the US constantly works to isolate Iran from the rest of the international community by imposing sanctions. However, the accession of Iran to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation provided a strong strategic platform for resuming ties with Saudi Arabia, shocking the Israelis.

After the Abraham Accords, Israel and the US were anticipating the normalisation of ties between Israel and the Kingdom, but it went in the opposite direction.

The agreement came as a big blow for Washington Saudi Arabia, a traditional ally of the US, normalised relations with a US adversary state in the region. Further, the meditations were facilitated by China, an international rival power of the US, directly challenging Washington as a rising superpower in global affairs. The deal also indicates that the US’s influence in the region is decreasing, and it is losing the tag of the only global player in West Asia.
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Implications on India

India has a cardinal relationship with the Gulf nations. Stable Gulf is in the interests of India. Regional peace, security, and stability will further boost India’s existing economic, trade, and investments in West Asia.

The agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran is an excellent development for India. West Asian Expert Md Muddassir Quamar who is an associate fellow at MP IDSA, said, “It is something India wants in the Middle East. So if Saudi Arabia and Iran actually live peacefully or without any conflicts is a welcome development.”

He further mentioned that “any rivalry, conflict or tension between these two countries is a threat to India’s interest because it weakens regional prospects.” At last, he added, “Chinese hand is a worry for India because of obvious reasons." Increasing Chinese presence and influence in West Asia is against Indian interests in West Asia.

The signing of the agreement is a partial success. Diplomatically, it is a triumph for the involved parties but implementing the agreement will be a real challenge for Riyadh and Tehran. Ending the proxy wars in the region, especially in Syria and Yemen will be the real test of this agreement. The hopes are high, but only time will unfold the complete story of this agreement as a success or failure.

(Anmol Kumar is a final-year master's student of Politics and International Relations at Pondicherry University. His area of interest lies in the power politics of West Asia, Terrorism and Counter-terrorism, and Energy politics. He tweets @anmol_kaundilya. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)

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Topics:  Saudi Arabia   West Asia   US-Israel 

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