How Tehran views the Iranian-Saudi agreement


Two weeks ago, on March 10, Iran said it would restore diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia after a seven-year rupture as part of a deal brokered by China. The agreement, reached in Beijing, is the result of almost a year and a half of mostly quiet talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, facilitated by several countries including China, Iraq, Oman , Russia and the United States.

Tehran and Riyadh agreed to keep the content of the long-awaited agreement confidential. Although it was publicly billed as a bilateral agreement, the main points of the agreement are reported to focus on ensuring regional stability in the Gulf and the Middle East in general. The aim of the Agreement is to enable both sides to have an open diplomatic dialogue, rather than engage in conflict to the detriment of the region.

The deal is also said to involve mutual assurances that Iran and Saudi Arabia will not sabotage each other’s interests on a range of issues in the fields of politics, intelligence, security and media, so that confidence-building steps can continue . The agreement, however, will not stop Iran’s support for the so-called “Axis of Resistance”, a group of regional allies and proxies that Tehran uses to improve its security. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has been touring the region in recent months, claiming Iran’s support for the axis.

One of the main reasons why the agreement was reached now, according to sources in Tehran, was Saudi Arabia’s recognition that it must get to the root of the problem it faces in Yemen, where Tehran supports the Houthi movement, by operating with Iran and giving reconciliation a chance. The public announcement of the agreement emphasized the observance of the principles of state sovereignty and non-interference, which Amirabdollahian says is sufficient proof of Iran’s intentions in Yemen moving forward.

Diplomatic crowds

Months before the agreement was signed, a flurry of diplomacy showed a gradual opening on the part of Iran and Australia. On December 7, 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he held talks on Iran and put forward an initiative that led to the meeting between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Beijing in March 2023.

The Ministers of Foreign Affairs Amirabdollahian and Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud met there during the Baghdad II Conference in Amman on December 20, 2022. According to a hardline member of the Iranian parliament, Javad Karimi Ghodoosi, in meetings on the fringes of the conference, Iran received signals from the United States that they were keen to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which the US pulled out of in 2018. In addition, Tehran was said to believe that Washington did not view Iran’s opposition in . exile as a serious alternative to the Islamic Republic, despite months of nationwide anti-government protests inside Iran. China’s initiative was discussed again when President Ebrahim Raisi traveled to Beijing in February 2023, indicating that there may have been a degree of coordination between Washington and Beijing to encourage a thaw between Tehran and Riyadh.

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia say the other side requested the talks that took place in Beijing. According to Riyadh, President Xi spoke about the topic of further talks on his trip to the kingdom in December 2022. Iran says that Saudi Arabia has asked for Chinese help to resume talks with Tehran, which Raisi was informed about when he went to Beijing.

Iraqi intervention

In 2021-22, Iraq hosted five rounds of Tehran-Riyadh talks and called for them to be made public at the end, perhaps paving the way for Baghdad to offer further aid to ease tensions between the US and de-escalation of Iran over the JCPOA. Iraq’s interest in encouraging a thaw between Washington and Tehran suggested that the issue was also related to the progress being made in Baghdad on the issue of the Tehran-Riyadh talks.

The fifth round of talks held in Baghdad in April 2022 was intended to lead to meetings between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Iraq continued to offer its mediation services to both sides throughout the year. But after the last face-to-face talks in April, at which point Iran was hoping to get a written response from Saudi Arabia to continue negotiations, Riyadh backed it, despite the two sides almost reached an agreement, just as the JCPOA talks were stalled again.

Another reason for the termination of the talks was due to Iran’s focus on economic issues, bearing in mind the sanctions against it and the impact on its trade relations. This was despite the fact that his deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Amir Saeid Jalil Iravani, led the talks with high-ranking officials from the Saudi intelligence service, including the director general of the General Intelligence Directorate, Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan. Saudi negotiators demanded that the talks focus on resolving major security files.

In June, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi came to Iran from Jeddah to promote the next round of talks, after which Iran supported a ceasefire in Yemen around the same time Washington and Tehran agreed to resume indirect JCPOA talks in Qatar through Europe. Union. Iran later declared that it was ready to restore ties if Saudi Arabia reciprocated. Amirabdollahian pushed for the reopening of embassies, but apathy on the Saudi side prevented further progress.

In July, Iran continued to hold bilateral talks with Egypt and Jordan, with Cairo assuring Tehran that it would not support any regional alliance against it, and Amman supported the idea of ​​establishing an Arab NATO, which he supported it before. A month later, Iran took steps to appeal to the EU about its serious intention to revive the nuclear deal.

Nationwide protests in Iran in September delayed further talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia. According to the hardline newspaper How, a tribute to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Tehran’s ability to neutralize an enemy’s hybrid warfare aimed at bringing about regime change during the protests and its refusal to yield to foreign pressure on its nuclear program was abandonment, crucial to pave the way for the final. agreement with Saudi Arabia when the protests ended in December. In addition, the last round of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Iraq had already concluded on issues related to the protests in Iran, which Tehran blamed on foreign opposition TV stations allegedly financing the Saudis.

Beijing steps in

To discuss the Chinese initiative that emerged in December 2022, Tehran proposed in February 2023 that the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia meet in Beijing. Riyadh called for high-level talks between top security officials, and in response Tehran sent the secretary of the National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, to China. The heads of national security and intelligence of Iran and Saudi Arabia then took part in a week of meetings. Shamkhani described the talks as positive, direct and transparent. The resulting agreement focused on bilateral relations, but processes were reportedly put in place to later discuss outstanding issues with the aim of building cooperation in the Middle East and the Muslim world.

The talks were fair, according to sources in Iran. The resumption of diplomatic relations did not involve a change of strategy or a weakening of either state, these sources added. Instead, it meant that the usual prolonged conflict between Tehran and Riyadh would be replaced by bilateral exchanges.

Finally, regional files were not an immediate priority in the market, but improving bilateral relations could lead to reduced tensions and increased stability. Amirabdollahian and Faisal bin Farhan will meet to discuss the restoration of diplomatic ties and outline a framework for their expansion.

Tehran confirmed that it had since received messages from Saudi Arabia through the Swiss government, and that there had been a total of five rounds of talks between Tehran and Riyadh in Iraq and three rounds of security meetings in Muscat to reach the deal in Beijing.

Representation in the Iranian media

According to How, the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia was shaped by Qassem Soleimani, the Quds Force commander who was killed by US forces on his way to negotiate an agreement with the Saudis in Baghdad in January 2020. Soleimani is said to have gone as far as non-rising 10 years recommended. agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia in conflict zones in the Middle East. This meant that neither the United States nor the West played a major role in the talks, although they were informed that negotiations were underway and that an agreement was pending on 10 March.

How the deal is also called profit and loss based agreement. As in any situation, sometimes the two sides can be more hostile, and other times they can be more friendly. It’s about putting the two together and figuring out how to live as neighbors. According to the newspaper, as long as both sides keep their promises, the deal can survive.

Iran hopes to have built a permanent deal that will lead to reconciliation with the Gulf Cooperation Council over time, promote regional convergence, and help reduce or eliminate tensions in conflict zones in the Middle East. As Iran sees it, if the deal goes through, the West will have a hard time taking steps to undermine or cancel the deal, even if it wants to; this is not only because he did not play a major role in shaping the treaty, but also because it could ultimately weaken US influence over Saudi Arabia.

Banafsheh Keynoush is a scholar of international affairs, a non-resident scholar with Iran’s MEI Program, and a fellow at the International Institute of Iranian Studies.

Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

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