After seven years of enmity, which undermined peace and security in the Gulf and fueled wars from Yemen to Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia decided to mend fences. According to Iranian and Saudi official media, Iran and Saudi Arabia have decided to resume diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies within two months. The deal was concluded on March 10, 2023, a Friday, during discussions in Beijing. After seven years of acrimonious conflict and a diplomatic lull, long-standing regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran decided to mend bilateral ties. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was pictured and recorded alongside China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and Saudi Arabia’s Musaad bin Mohammed al-Aiban in Iranian state media. The two nations vowed to uphold the “sovereignty of states” and “non-interference in the internal affairs of states” in the combined trilateral proclamation. They also decided to renew their 1998 general cooperation agreement, which covers commerce, economic growth, and investment, as well as their security cooperation deal from 2001.
After 1945, Iran and Saudi Arabia have had a complicated and turbulent relationship. Here is a timeline of their relationship at various points in time:
Iran and Saudi Arabia kept up largely friendly relations at this time. Both nations were founding members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1960 as well as the Arab League in 1945. They worked together to resolve a variety of local problems and had a shared desire to keep the Persian Gulf peaceful.
The Shah used force to stop three strategically placed islands at the entrance to the straits of Hormouz. His display of aggressive activism increased anxieties in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis were suspicious of the Shah’s motives, fearing that he might being the entire Persian Gulf under Iranian control.
The Iranian Revolution of 1979, which resulted in the foundation of an Islamic republic in Iran, signaled an unprecedented shift in the bilateral relations. The conservative monarchs in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, who saw Iran’s revolutionary ideology as a potential threat to their own reign, saw the revolution as a challenge.
Saudi Arabia backed Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988), and Iran accused Saudi Arabia of supporting Saddam Hussein’s government. Their relationship was further damaged by the war, and tensions rose after events like the 1987 Mecca incident which is known as “Disavowal of the Pagans”, in which Iranian pilgrims and Saudi the armed forces battled during the Hajj pilgrimage, killing hundreds of people. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at the time (The supreme leader of Iran), accused Saudi leaders in the long statement of being “Traitors of the Holy Shrines” and “Puppets and servants of America”.
Hostilities gradually decreased after the death of Khomeini’s death.
Both nations made an effort to normalize their relations in the 1990s. In 1997, after the election of reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, then crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Abdullah attended a summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference in Tehran. In March 1998, Khatami’s predecessor, Akbar Hashmi Rafsanjani, met with King Fahad during a visit to Saudi Arabia. In order to improve collaboration, notably in the economic and energy areas, they held discussions and inked agreements. However, differences remained, particularly with regard to local problems like Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
After the US invasion in Iraq & ousted the regime of Saddam Hussain, the road was paved for the Iranian government to create a corridor to the west and the Mediterranean Sea.
The 2011 Arab Spring upheavals exacerbated regional conflicts because Saudi Arabia and Iran supported various factions in a number of nations, including Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen. Because Saudi Arabia is primarily Sunni Muslim and Iran is predominantly Shia Muslim, these battles exacerbated sectarian tensions.
Iran influence in the region grew due to which Saudi Arabia took a more aggressive position. Saudi attacked Yemen to suppressed Houthi rebels. Iran began to support the Houthis and increased its presence in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia executed Shia Muslim leader Nimr-al-Nimr and Iranian protestors attacked Saudi diplomatic missions.
Aramco suffered a direct attack in 2019 that cut off half of its oil production, which Riyadh publicly blamed on Iran, which refuted such claims. The relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia has generally been characterized by rivalry for influence in the area, ideological disagreements, and proxy wars. It is crucial to remember that the two nations have made attempts at conversation and brief periods of modest collaboration. Their relationship’s future course is still up in the air and heavily reliant on regional dynamics and geopolitical developments.
Preset Circumstances
The agreement’s conclusion came after many days of negotiations in China, which were preceded by two significant high-level visits: Chinese President Xi Jinping’s travel to Saudi Arabia in December 2022 and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s trip to Beijing in February 2023. These summit-level discussions and regional Saudi-Iranian interactions created the foundation for the March 10, 2023 deal. If the warming relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran continues, it might transform the course of the entire region. It could pave the path for a more stable and peaceful Middle East because of its broad ramifications for the region and beyond. Both nations had compelling reasons to work towards détente.
By maintaining the pace of engagement and stepping up their high-level meetings between their nations, both countries have a sincere desire to see their bilateral ties return to normalcy. King Salman recently extended a cordial invitation to President Ebrahim Raisi to visit Saudi Arabia, and top diplomats from the two nations are constantly trying to advance bilateral relations between their nations.
Iran wanted to end the diplomatic isolation the US-led West had placed it in. It was also extremely concerned about the possibility that diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel would be forged under Washington’s urging and command. That would have made Tehran even more isolated and made its security issues far worse.
Saudi Arabia’s security concerns regarding an increase in tensions with Iran were the driving force behind this action. Attacks on Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure and oil facilities have occurred often in recent years. A missile and drone attack on the kingdom’s oil-processing facilities in 2019 that Riyadh attributed to Tehran reduced the country’s oil production by more than half.
For the Saudi government, which is pursuing the ambitious Vision 2030 plan that calls for diversifying the economy and increasing expenditure on social and infrastructure sectors in order to transform the nation into a magnet for international investment, domestic considerations also played a significant role. Regional tensions should be reduced, and a stable and predictable environment is encouraged by its domestic reform plan.
Saudi Arabia has undergone substantial domestic reforms under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as international measures that have changed the country’s foreign policy. With Qatar and Turkey, it has taken steps to restore fences. Additionally, it has demonstrated its ability to distance itself from Washington, which has led many experts to observe that Muhammad Bin Salman is pursuing a progressively autonomous international strategy from the West.
Question Arises:
Of all, this is just the hesitant beginning of a difficult journey. After all, détente is a procedure, not a thing. Concerns abound on the extent and follow-up of the reconciliation. Is it strategic? Will it last? Can a long history of misunderstanding be broken? Will they be able to allay one other’s worries about security? Will the West attempt to scuttle the agreement? Can the two nations resolve underlying problems and get past the Shia-Sunni split that has historically fueled their hostility?
Experts Opinion:
According to Former Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi;
“The agreement is a tentative first step towards détente but it can pave the way for a more stable region”
In another argue she said;
“For Pakistan, it opens up new diplomatic and economic opportunities. For decades, Pakistan has followed a policy of balancing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, treading very carefully between a strategic ally and a neighbor. Now the rapprochement between the two former rivals means diplomatic space opens up for Islamabad to consider new initiatives and also strengthen ties with Iran”.
Abas Aslani, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies, told Al Jazeera that Iran and Saudi Arabia were previously “mostly focused on rivalry and tensions, but now they are talking about focusing on common ground … stressing cooperation”. He further added that “But on the bilateral level, to what extent they can go ahead depends on how the Saudis act because Iran has been under economic sanctions by the West; that’s why we have to see how they will proceed,” referring to sanctions placed on Iran over its nuclear program.
Peter Baker who is the Chief White House correspondent for The New York Times wrote that the Chinese-brokered deal had “upended US diplomacy in the Middle East”.
Jeffrey Feltman, a well-respected former senior UN and US official, was quoted in news reports as saying the agreement “will be interpreted — probably accurately — as a slap at the Biden administration and as evidence that China is the rising power.
Faisal Abbas, editor-in-chief of Arab News, asserts that “China as guarantor of the agreement has a high stake in ensuring that the détente makes headway.”
Remarks of Global Superpowers:
Advantages for China
The position of China is seen to be crucial. By mediating, China has actually achieved a significant diplomatic success. It has proven that it is gaining power on a global scale and has solidified its position as a key player in the Middle East. Unlike the US, China has solid relations with both and is the two nations’ largest economic partner, making it an ideal mediator. China imports 40% of its oil from the region, highlighting its stakes in the area. A question that is as crucial is whether and how much the Beijing accord will help in controlling or even ending tensions in other parts of the Middle East. Devastating battles in Yemen and Syria have been exacerbated by Riyadh and Tehran’s rival regional agendas, which are now feeding instability in Lebanon and Iraq.
Aspects of Israel
The recent re-appraochment between Iran and Saudi Arabia, combined with reports that Riyadh is demanding lots of perks by the United States to move forward with normalization, could signal a huge change in Arab-Iranian relations and pose practical hindrances to Arab-Israel relation. Many Gulf Arab states have long been concerned about direct threats from Iranian proxies, or even attacks by them, as well as about claims that Iran supports opposition activities. Israel, on the other hand, considers Iran’s nuclear program to be an existential danger. From its perspective, Tehran charges Israel with sabotaging its nuclear program and Saudi Arabia with supporting ethnic opposition groups in unstable provinces like Kurdistan and Baluchistan as well as hostile Iranian overseas media. Naftali Bennett, a former Israeli prime minister, referred to the pact as a “serious and dangerous” event and a “fatal blow to the effort to create a regional alliance” against Iran.
USA Perspective
Washington’s muted response indicates its unease and concern over the rapprochement. Many Western commentators however saw the thaw for what it is. However, for the time being, the development has marginalized the US diplomatically. At a time when tensions between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program are growing, its efforts to isolate Iran have experienced a significant setback. The US initiative to improve relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel has also been abandoned for the time being. In its efforts to form a regional alliance against Iran, Israel faces a significant setback. It was also extremely concerned about the possibility that diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel would be forged under Washington’s urging and command. That would have made Tehran even more isolated and made its security issues far worse. Local hostilities would be lessened if Iran and Saudi Arabia got along. Both nations have been parties to several disputes and proxies warfare around the Middle East.
Conflict risk and the potential of further escalation may be reduced by improved ties. The likelihood that the causes of regional instability are diminished is increased if the two nations are able to put their new understandings into practice. The agreement, according to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, shows how important “political solutions and dialogue” are to his nation. The first indicator of whether a peace dividend can come from the reconciliation may be the advancement of Yemeni negotiations.
Gulf stability is essential for the security of the world’s energy supply because both Saudi Arabia and Iran are significant oil producers in the region. Greater stability in the Gulf may result from improved ties between the two nations, lowering the possibility of oil supply and production interruptions. In fact, regional leaders need to uphold the spirit of the Saudi-Iranian reconciliation in order to resolve their bilateral differences and restore security and peace in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, among other conflict-affected areas, as soon as possible.
Negotiations and diplomatic discussion between Iran and Saudi Arabia could be facilitated by a diplomatic reconciliation between the two nations. Increased engagement and communication can assist in addressing disagreements and resolving disputes.
With better relations, Iran and Saudi Arabia may be able to work together on a variety of projects. Both nations have enormous economic potential, and cooperation in sectors like commerce, investment, and energy might be advantageous to both countries and aid in the growth of the local economy.
As important Middle East players, Iran and Saudi Arabia, improved relations may have broader effects on regional dynamics. It might affect the alliances and power dynamics among other nations in the area, thereby promoting greater cooperation and stability.
We additionally have to consider what Pakistan will gain from this. Along with addressing the domestic situation, we can gain from this peace agreement by enhancing our relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. More trade opportunities will follow, which Pakistan urgently needs in these difficult times. After bringing about peace and tranquilly in conflict zones, Muslim nations must speak out forcefully and in unison in support of Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Royangia who have endured decades of relentless religiously motivated atrocities and brutality on the part of the occupier forces. Only then will these marginalized Muslim communities be able to fully realize their UN-guaranteed fundamental rights.

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