Unexpected Deal Between Saudi Arabia, Iran


The Exponent/Morgan Fuerstenberg

Saudi Arabia and Iran came to a deal on March 10 to resume diplomatic ties and reopen embassies between their nations. China brokered the deal, asserting itself as a powerful influence in the Middle East.

According to a joint statement released by Saudi Arabia, Iran and China, the deal will take effect within the next two months. The Saudis and Iranians have pledged to not interfere in each other’s internal affairs.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have had a fraught past, with each country backing a different side in the civil wars of Yemen and Syria, respectively. The two nations officially broke ties in 2016 after the Saudis executed an outspoken Shia scholar, which caused Iranians to storm a Saudi diplomatic outpost.

According to the New York Times, President Biden officially welcomed the diplomatic restoration, although he didn’t comment on China’s involvement. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, no nation has rivaled the influence of the United States in the Middle East, but China could be changing this.

“This is a big deal,” Amy Hawthorne of the Project on Middle East Democracy said. “The United States could not have brokered such a deal right now with Iran specifically, since we have no relations China’s prestigious accomplishment vaults it into a new league diplomatically and outshines anything the U.S. has been able to achieve in the region since Biden came to office.”

The deal is rife with geopolitical implications. Saudi Arabia has historically been allied with the U.S.; Iran is heavily sanctioned by the U.S. and has been providing drones to Vladimir Putin’s Russia to use in the War in Ukraine. The Saudis’ willingness to thaw relations with Iran—under the leadership of China—calls previous alliances into question.

“Some folks in the Gulf clearly see this as the Chinese century,” Steven A. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations said. China, an industrial powerhouse, is a large consumer of Saudi oil.

The coming months will reveal if Saudi Arabia and Iran can begin to heal old wounds, or if their animosity is too large to overcome at this time. In either case, China has confirmed itself as a major player on the world stage