InternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 06

Saudi Arabia, Iran mending fences?

Efforts of Prime Minister Imran Khan to mediate or facilitate peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran are being seen as part of a series of recent signals by the former’s willingness to de-escalate tension with Tehran. Some regional and international analysts believe the two Muslim countries have no other choice while many are still skeptical about any breakthrough in view of their deep-rooted and historical differences.
According to speculation in the international media, Prime Minister Imran Khan had travelled to Iran and Saudi Arabia to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh after the go-ahead from the letter. It started after Imran Khan had accepted US President Donald Trump’s request for mediation between Tehran and Washington during their meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in late September.
According to a report by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), there are now positive and promising signs from the authorities of two sides after years of tension and disagreement in various fields between Iran and Riyadh. Rejection of war with Iran by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and emphasis on the effectiveness of diplomatic relations with Iran indicates a clear shift in the position of Saudi leaders, it noted in a report. The readiness of some regional actors such as Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia also shows that they hope to find a peaceful resolution of the Tehran-Riyadh disputes.
In addition, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei recently revealed a message from Saudi Arabia to Tehran, while Saudi Arabian leaders had their own interpretation for their domestic public opinion and foreign allies. For instance, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir wrote on his twitter that what the Iranian government spokesman said was not accurate about the message of Saudi Arabia to Iranians. “What happened is that some countries were trying to reduce the tension; we also told them that Saudi Arabia was constantly trying to create security and stability in the region,” he wrote.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Turkey’s TRT World that Iran had always been ready to negotiate on all issues with Saudi Arabia. “It is Iran’s neighbour. There is no choice but to talk to each other. Negotiation with Saudi Arabia can be direct or through mediation. Iran never rejects mediation,” he said. Iran’s peace plan, Hormuz Peace Endeavor (HOPE), proposed by President Hassan Rouhani at the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly this year, showed the importance of endogenous security to achieve peace in the region. Addressing the UN General Assembly session, Rouhani described ensuring security, peace, stability, and progress in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz as Iran’s historical responsibility and invited all countries that are affected by the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz developments to join the initiative. Rouhani’s initiative came days after Yemen’s missile strikes on Saudi Aramco facilities, inflicting heavy losses on the Saudis.
Speculations are surfacing that remarks by the Saudi crown prince in a CBS interview and some mediation efforts by third parties could be an early practical step on the reconciliation path, indicating the kingdom is posing for a shift in policy toward its northern neighbor, observed an article in the Tehran Times. In recent months, the Saudi leadership has been quietly trying to scale back its downright hostility vis-à-vis Iran. The Saudi authorities, who formerly took turns to speak out against Iran in harsh terms, have been largely silent. But in the wake of the September attack on the state oil giant Aramco, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is openly ditching threats, it noted.
Speaking to CBS’s 60 Minutes in an interview aired on September 29, the crown prince had said for the first time that he preferred political approach towards Iran. “The political and peaceful solution is much better than the military one,” he said. The remarks came two years after rejecting dialogue with Iran and threatening to take war inside Iran. “We know that the aim of the Iranian regime is to reach the focal point of Muslims,” he said in May 2017, pointing to Makkah and Madina. “We will not wait until the fight is inside Saudi Arabia and we will work so that the battle is on their side, inside Iran,” he had said.
The September 14 attack into Aramco facilities proved Saudi Arabia’s military vulnerability. And Trump showed no real interest in defending Saudi Arabia and stressed America’s energy independence in the age of shale. Trump is even pushing for talks with Iran, asserting that the differences between the US and Iran could be settled at the negotiating table. With a realization of his country’s exposure, the crown prince is now expressing hope for a peaceful solution with Iran, the Iranian newspaper noted.
The New York Times, citing unnamed Iraqi and Pakistani officials, said MBS asked Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to mediate during a meeting in Jeddah last month. Iranian officials have also welcomed the initiative, with Iran’s parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani declaring that “direct dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia may solve many political and military problems in the region.”
On Trump’s efforts for talks with Tehran, the Tehran Times observed, “He knows that any agreement with Iran (and its magnification by U.S. news media) can pave the way for his victory in the next year’s presidential election. A sharp decline in Trump’s popularity over the swing states, such as Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin has shocked the U.S. president. One of Trump’s weaknesses in American citizens’ view is his failed and unbalanced foreign policy.”
The peace initiative by Prime Minister Imran Khan has not only brightened peace prospects in the Middle East but also catapulted Pakistan to a position of eminence and respect. Without taking the initiative as a weakness of Saudi Arabia, Iran should also grab the opportunity with both hands. It will not only benefit the two countries, but all Muslim states and the whole world.