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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.



  • 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




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.



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