Middle East thaw backed for stability

Bid by Saudis, Iranians to mend fences rational as US reach wanes, experts say

Efforts by Saudi Arabia and Iran to resolve their differences can be seen as rational on the part of both countries and a geopolitical necessity, say analysts who see an opportunity to bring stability to the Middle East amid the United States' waning influence in the region.

At the Gulf Cooperation Council-led summit in Jeddah this month, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan told reporters that talks between his country and Iran have been positive, and that a hand has been extended to Iran to achieve normal relations.

Dina Yulianti Sulaeman, director of the Indonesia Center for Middle East Studies, told China Daily that the Saudi leaders "are being more rational this time" as they realize that the United States' hegemonic role no longer works as it did before in the region. And in the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the US "even forced the European countries to pay the price of the conflict", she said.

"That is why the GCC summit did not produce the results that the US wanted. There were no strong statements about Iran and no agreement to form a defense pact against Iran," said Sulaeman, who also lectures on international relations at Padjadjaran University in Indonesia.

"This condition will open opportunities for closer relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, especially since both countries have mutual interests."

On July 15, during US President Joe Biden's first official visit to the Middle East, the US and Saudi Arabia agreed on the importance of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. On Biden's trip to Israel as part of his tour, the US president and Israel's caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, signed a declaration affirming their commitment to that goal.

In a video interview with the CNN network that was aired on July 17, Prince Faisal reiterated that all six countries of the GCC-Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain-were unified in supporting negotiations with Iran, and that Saudi Arabia wants to resolve its differences with Iran through diplomacy.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an interview with US magazine The Atlantic in March, said his country and Iran are neighbors that cannot get rid of each other and the solution was coexistence.

Mohammad Salami, a Middle East analyst and associate researcher at the International Institute for Global Strategic Analysis in Pakistan, said it is natural that Saudi Arabia and Iran "will need each other" due to the geopolitical situation, including the war in Yemen, which he said cannot be resolved without Iran's help.

"Saudi Arabia is moving toward an 'economy first'. Riyadh has ambitious plans for an oil-free economy, decarbonization and moving toward green energy, becoming a tourism hub, attracting foreign capital, attracting foreign companies with advanced technologies and a smart economy," Salami said. "For all this, it needs to have a safe space in the first place."

Civil war in Yemen broke out in 2014 after Houthi militants seized the capital Sanaa, forcing out the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Saudi Arabia led a military coalition into Yemen the following year, but it has struggled to dislodge the militants.

Mehmet Rakipoglu, a Gulf analyst and researcher at Sakarya University Middle East Institute in Turkiye, said Saudi Arabia has been "eager to normalize its ties with Teheran "since Biden took office last year.

Saudi Arabian officials "know very well that no foreign power will go to war for them and they have to rely only on themselves," he added.