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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : In Saudi-Iranian normalization, new challenges emerge in West Asia

 

Source: The Hindu

 

  • Prelims: Current events of international importance, west Asia, saudi-Iran conflict, JCOP, IAEA etc
  • Mains GS Paper II: Bilateral, regional and global grouping and agreements involving India or affecting India’s interests.

 

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • Saudi Arabia and Iran, signed an agreement in Beijing, China, to re-establish diplomatic ties, respect each other’s sovereignty and maintain non-interference in the other’s domestic affairs

       

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

What is the Conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

  • Religious Factor:
    • Saudi Arabia broke off ties with Iran in 2016 after protesters invaded Saudi diplomatic posts after Saudi Arabia had executed a prominent Shiite cleric days earlier.
  • Saudi Arabia has long portrayed itself as the world’s leading Sunni nation while Iran views itself as the protector of the Islam’s Shiite minority.
  • Attacks on Saudi Arabia: Iran was blamed for a series of attacks including one targeting the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in 2019.
  • Regional Cold War: Saudi Arabia and Iran – two powerful neighbors – are locked in a fierce struggle for regional dominance.
  • Uprisings across the Arab world (after the Arab Spring in 2011) caused political instability throughout the region.
    • Iran and Saudi Arabia expand their influence, notably in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, further heightening mutual suspicions.
  • Proxy Wars: Iran and Saudi Arabia are not directly fighting but they are engaged in a variety of proxy wars (conflicts where they support rival sides and militias) around the region.
    • For Example, Houthi rebels in Yemen. These groups can acquire greater capabilities which can cause further instability in the region.
      • Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supporting them.

 

What is the agreement?

  • Agreement to restore diplomatic ties which have been severed since 2016.
  • The agreement reinstates two previous accords:
    • On security cooperation signed in 2001
    • Dealing with economic, technical, scientific and cultural ties.
  • This agreement ends seven years of diplomatic estrangement between the two Gulf neighbors.
  • China’s Foreign Affairs Minister: He described it as a “victory for dialogue, a victory for peace”.
  • The Saudi Foreign Minister said: Saudi “favored political solutions and dialogue
  • Iranian Foreign minister: affirmed that his country was pursuing “the preparation of more regional steps”.

 

The Saudi-Iran accord:

  • The agreement addresses the most serious regional confrontation
  • It reduces regional tensions and puts in place the bases for further dialogue on improving relations and engaging on contentious issues.
  • Meetings of Saudi and Iranian officials in Baghdad and Muscat in 2021 and 2022
    • Addressing issues that divide the two countries
      • The wars in Syria and Yemen
      • Saudi concerns relating to Iran’s mobilization of Shia communities in the region
    • Arab states were prepared to pursue their interests without United States involvement.
    • S. not as a security-provider: The U.S.’s military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to its loss of credibility among its regional allies.

 

Role of China:

  • China is an attractive partner.
  • It has substantial energy, trade, investment and technology-related ties with West Asia
  • It is the region’s largest buyer of crude oil
  • It is a major trade and investment partner, and rapidly expanding its role as a technology-provider in most countries.

 

Importance of West Asia for China;

  • West Asia is crucial for the realization of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  • Regional states being important for logistical connectivity, and investment, consultancy and contracting partnerships.
  • China’s interests require a stable regional environment.

 

China’s new approach in West Asia:

  • Two years ago: China was looking at greater political involvement with the region on the basis of “quasi-mediation diplomacy”.
    • To promote its broad commercial, diplomatic and political interests rather than its hard security concerns.
  • Chinese President to his Arab interlocutors during three summits (bilateral, Gulf and Arab League) in Riyadh: The Chinese Foreign Office described the visit as “consolidating consensus on global governance, development, security and other crucial issues”.

 

Way Forward

  • Regional security needs the revival of the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and linked with it, the management of Israel’s aggressiveness.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced it had seen traces of uranium enrichment by Iran to 84%
    • The IAEA Director General visited Iran: obtained an Iranian agreement to allow verification and monitoring activities by IAEA’s inspectors.
    • This has prepared the ground for renewed talks on the JCPOA.
  • Saudi-Iran differences will be difficult to resolve: Saudi Arabia’s deep sense of strategic vulnerability vis-à-vis its northern neighbor and concerns that might destabilize regional states through the use of Shia proxies.
  • Iran will need to play a more proactive role to assure its neighbor of its benign intentions.
  • Israel’s domestic politics, deeply polarized and dominated by the extreme right wing, is also expected to obstruct the renewal of the JCPOA and maintain a hostile posture towards Iran.
  • Though serious problems remain with this accord, China has affirmed that its role in West Asian affairs is likely to get more active and substantial.
  • Challenges for Indian diplomacy: India will need to engage with China in West Asia where they have a broad gamut of shared interests in energy security, free and open sea lanes, logistical connectivity, and, above all, regional stability.

 

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

How will I2U2 (India, Israel, UAE and USA) grouping transform India’s Position in global politics?(UPSC 2022) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)