US Concerns Mount Over China’s Role in Brokering Iran-Saudi Arabia Deal

Concerns about the U.S. role in the Middle East are back on the table after Iran, and Saudi Arabia agreed to make up on Friday. This is especially true since the deal was brokered by China, the U.S.’s biggest enemy.

After seven years of fighting, the diplomatic deal, which was reached after four days of talks with top security officials in Beijing, eased tensions between the countries in the Middle East.

In a joint statement, Iran and Saudi Arabia said they would start talking to each other again and open embassies in each other’s countries within two months.

US Concerns Mount Over China's Role in Brokering Iran-Saudi Arabia Deal

Alex Vatanka, who runs the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute, said the deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia was necessary for the region. Still, he questioned whether it would stop all violence, including in Yemen, during a civil war.

“We’ll have to wait and see if they can have a good conversation. “Opening up embassies is not the same as having a real conversation,” said Vatanka. “The road ahead will be steep.”

Saudi Arabia, a prominent Sunni Muslim country, cut ties with Iran in 2016 after protesters stormed the embassy in Iran over the execution of a Shiite Muslim cleric and other prisoners.

Both countries have been on different sides of Yemen’s deadly civil war. Saudi Arabia has supported Yemen’s government, while Iran has supported the Houthis, who are fighting against the government.

The news on Friday was a diplomatic and political win for Beijing, which recently announced a plan to end the war in Ukraine.

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi quickly called the agreement a “victory” on Friday, and several Chinese newspapers reported that he said his country would continue to work on global issues.

But the agreement makes the U.S. look weaker in the area. After pulling out of Afghanistan in 2021, the U.S. has cut back on its forces in Syria.

The White House confirmed on Friday that the deal also comes when Saudi Arabia is asking for security guarantees, a steady flow of arms shipments, and help with its civilian nuclear program to improve its relationship with Israel, a major U.S. ally.

John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters that the U.S. was “informed” about the talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran but did not participate in them.

Kirby was glad that relations between the two countries were getting better if it meant less fighting in the Middle East.

“To the extent that it could calm things down, that’s a good thing,” Kirby said, adding that the U.S. is not giving up its role in the Middle East.

Vatanka from the Middle East Institute said that Iran and Saudi Arabia have tried to calm things down for the past couple of years.

Even though China’s role as a mediator surprised him, Vatanka said the deal is not “a major loss” for Washington in the long run.

“It sends the message that the United States can’t be a key player,” he said. “But China isn’t going to take over the Middle East.”

China buys much oil from Saudi Arabia and has close ties with Iran.

On the other hand, relations between the U.S. and Iran have been tense for decades, and Washington would have had difficulty mediating a similar agreement to bring things back to normal.

Some experts have warned that China is starting a new era of diplomatic ties in the Middle East, where it mostly had economic ties before.

Jonathan Panikoff, who runs the Middle East Programs for The Atlantic Council and is in charge of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative, warned of a “growing political role for China in the area.”

“It should be a warning to U.S. policymakers: Leave the Middle East and cut ties with sometimes frustrating, even barbaric, but long-term allies, and China will fill the void,” Panikoff wrote in an analysis on Friday.

The U.S. has a more challenging time with politics in the Middle East because Israel is fighting with Palestinians who want a free state in Gaza and the West Bank, which Israel controls. The ongoing civil war in Syria, violence in Yemen, rising tensions over Iran’s support for Russia, and the end of a nuclear deal with Iran have all added to the problems.

Last summer, when gas prices were high in the U.S., President Biden also went to Saudi Arabia, where he was seen giving a fist bump to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been criticized for overseeing human rights abuses and killing the U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A few months after the visit, the White House was upset when OPEC+, an oil alliance led by Saudi Arabia, cut oil production.

Still, when discussing the economy on Friday, Biden seemed happy about the diplomatic agreement. “It’s better for everyone if Israel and its Arab neighbors get along better,” the president said.

Related Stories

Leave a Reply