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Saudi Arabia, Iran and the China Factor

Saudi Arabia and Iran have renewed their relationship after a long time. This should be seen as an important twist on the political stage of the Middle East. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia is close to America while Iran is absolutely anti the US. Obviously the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran cannot be a mere diplomatic move. It has the potential of taking on new dimensions. The question is what was China’s role in this diplomatic thaw?

The Chinese involvement throws open many a new chapters in this intriguing story. Everyone knows about the tension between China and the US yet China is extending a very helpful hand in bringing one of its closest friends, Iran, closer to another close friend of the ‘West’.

What is the objective? Could China be hoping to open new doors with Israel through Saudi Arabia? Could it be wanting to create a wedge between Israel and America’s relations? Is it even possible to imagine such a scenario? With China’s growing importance in the region, obviously the American establishment will not just sit and twiddle its thumbs! They are almost certain to now make some moves of their own.

What will be the Saudi attitude in such a position? Along with all this it should not be surprising that Saudi Arabia get interested in nuclear arms which could again create new complexities in Central Asia. All of these unanswered questions make the situation quite complex.

Iran’s talks with Saudi Arabia were unfolding at the same time as negotiations between Iran and the United States to revive the 2016 nuclear deal were faltering. The outcomes of both sets of Iran talks seemed interlinked as the Saudi’s and the American’s have long walked in lockstep on foreign policy. Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the US has become strained in recent years, while China’s standing has risen. Unlike Washington, Beijing has shown an ability to transcend the many rivalries that trouble the Middle East. China has forged good diplomatic relations with countries across the region, driven by strengthening economic ties, without the often unwanted Western lectures on human rights.

Friday’s agreement could herald the end of a blood-drenched era in the Middle East. Riyadh and Tehran have been at ideological and military loggerheads since Iran’s Islamic Revolution installed an anti-Western, Shia theocracy in 1979. Saudi and Iranian officials say they will also work to reimplement a decades-old security cooperation pact and revive an even older agreement on technology, and trade. This resumptions of relations is sure to have far reaching effects over the next decade and beyond. But one thing is now clear, that China is now the godfather of this agreement and given China’s strategic importance to Iran, that holds tremendous weight.

(Navin Suri is an award winning journalist and the Editor in Chief of India's oldest and largest Urdu newspaper, The Daily Milap).


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