Restoration of ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia

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    In News

    • Recently, China-Brokered Talks have led to the normalcy of diplomatic relations between the middle-eastern countries of Iran and Saudi Arabia

    About

    • Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to restore ties and reopen diplomatic missions after a seven-year-long rift that has fuelled tensions in the Gulf and deepened conflicts from Yemen to Syria.
    • The agreement was reached recently during talks in Beijing between top security officials from the two rival Middle East powers.
    • While the rivalry between predominantly Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia has dominated Middle East politics in recent years, spreading into Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen.
    • The execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Tehran in 2016 was the most recent incident which led to protests and the cutting of ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

    Major highlights of the agreement:

    • Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to respect state sovereignty and not interfere in each other’s internal affairs.
    • Both countries have also agreed to activate a security cooperation agreement signed in 2001.
    • The foreign ministers of both nations will meet to prepare for the exchange of ambassadors.

    Potential Consequences

    • The deal could have implications for a US-led effort to isolate Iran economically through sanctions.
    • If there is a genuine warming of Saudi relations with Tehran, one consequence is likely to be Saudi investment inside Iran.
    • A further potential consequence of the diplomatic re-engagement is that Saudi Arabia may rein back its London-based satellite channel Iran International.
    • The pact does not necessarily mean any change in the Saudi approach to the Palestinian conflict, where it has been warning Israel that it is on course to cause dangerous bloodshed.

    Implications of Agreement

    • The agreement has potentially wide implications for the Iran nuclear deal and the civil war in Yemen, where the two sides are locked in a proxy war.
    • The deal shows the new determination of Saudi Arabia to conduct a foreign policy independent of the West.
    • Some quarters from Israel have described the pact as a “serious and dangerous” development and a “fatal blow to the effort to create a regional alliance” against the Islamic Republic.
    • Saudi Arabia has refused to join the Abraham accords that normalized relations between Israel and some Arab states.

    Timeline for Severed Ties

    Iran and Saudi Arabia have had a contentious relationship over the years, marked by proxy wars and diplomatic tensions.

    • 2011: The Arab Spring leads to accusations from Saudi Arabia that Iran was inciting protests in Bahrain. Iran denies the accusations.
    • 2011: The Syrian war begins, with Iran backing President Bashar al-Assad and Saudi Arabia supporting rebel groups. Later, both countries join a US-led coalition to fight ISIS.
    • 2015: The Yemen civil war begins, with Saudi Arabia backing the internationally recognized government and Iran supporting the Houthi rebels.
    • 2015: A stampede in Mecca during the annual Hajj pilgrimage results in Iran accusing Saudi Arabia of mismanaging the event. Tensions rise further when Saudi Arabia executes prominent Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr and Iran protests.
    • 2016: Saudi Arabia cuts ties with Iran after protesters in Tehran storm the Saudi embassy in response to Nimr’s execution.
    • 2016: Iran suspends participation in the Hajj, and Saudi Arabia launches a Persian-language television station covering the pilgrimage.
    • 2017: Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, impose a blockade on Qatar, accusing it of being too close to Iran and supporting terrorism. The blockade is lifted in 2021.
    • 2017: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigns unexpectedly from Riyadh, citing Iran’s influence on his country through Hezbollah.
    • 2018: President Donald Trump withdraws the US from the Iran nuclear deal, a move praised by Saudi Arabia and Israel.
    • 2019: Saudi Arabia blames Iran for a series of attacks on targets in the kingdom, including one that temporarily halved the country’s crude production.
    • 2020: Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani is killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad, and Saudi media celebrates the attack.
    • 2021: Iran and Saudi Arabia hold their first direct talks since cutting off official ties in April, with talks continuing throughout the year and into 2022.
    • 2023: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visits China in February, and in March, Saudi Arabia and Iran announce they have decided to re-establish ties.

    Way ahead

    • Iran and Saudi Arabia have a long and complex history of adversarial relations, marked by proxy wars, diplomatic standoffs, and geopolitical tensions.
    • However, recent developments, including the resumption of direct talks and the agreement to restore ties, offer a glimmer of hope for improved relations between these two regional powers.
    • As both countries face common challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, economic pressures, and security threats, the restoration of diplomatic ties could pave the way for greater cooperation and stability in the Middle East.
    • While many obstacles remain, the recent diplomatic efforts provide a positive sign for the future of Iran-Saudi Arabia relations.

    Source: TH