Convergence of Iran-Arabia-China interests in regional stability

The restoration of diplomatic relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia is a future-making event in the West Asian region, which will lead to regional stability and the reduction of negative interventions by foreign powers. These relations will be the core of the formation of endogenous regional order in the long term.
13 March 2023
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Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini

The restoration of diplomatic relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia is a future-making event in the West Asian region, which will lead to regional stability and the reduction of negative interventions by foreign powers. These relations will be the core of the formation of endogenous regional order in the long term. A review of recent developments shows that stability and instability in the Middle East is largely dependent on the quality of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The tension in the relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia has always spread to the surrounding environment of these two countries and provides the ground for the presence and intervention of foreign interventionist powers such as America in the region, which are in complete conflict with the foundations of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The power of the Islamic Republic of Iran depends firstly on regional stability or at least tension in the region, and secondly on reducing the interventions of extra-regional powers, especially America, in West Asia. On the other hand, historical experiences show that de-tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia has also led to the formation of relative stability in the region.

A review of the history of the relations between the two countries shows that the relations between the two countries have always had a sinusoidal state; sometimes confrontation, sometimes conflict and sometimes interaction between the two countries have been established. The root of the rivalry between the two countries is generally geopolitical requirements and the balance of power in the region, which has manifested itself in formats such as ideological conflicts and gray wars in different countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

In the years when Iran and Saudi Arabia entered the de-tension process, the conflict between Wahhabism and Shiism existed and sometimes became very active, but the two countries entered into cooperation with each other according to their common regional interests. This means that the ideological conflict in the relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia has been subject to the principle and generally subject to geopolitical requirements and the balance of power. Accordingly, it has always been possible to cooperate between the two countries, even at the most stressful sections of their relations.

The geopolitical requirements in the relations between the two countries were not only the cause of tension, but also caused de-tension and interaction at times, such as the process of de-tension and interaction between the two countries in the years 1991 to 2003, as well as the interaction and cooperation was created between Iran and Saudi Arabia in 2006 to 2010. In these two periods, mainly external factors at the regional level caused the cooperation of the two countries.

The roots of the March 10 agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia in China should also be traced to the balance of regional power as in the past. But in the new agreement, a new variable has been added in the motivation of the cooperation of the two countries, and that is the need of the two countries for regional stability. In fact, the common and converging interests of the two countries in regional stability have intensified the motivation to start relations between the two countries. Regional stability has always been the strategic goal of Iran in the region, now Saudi Arabia has made regional stability its strategy. In the past, after an event caused a change in the balance of power in the region, such as the US attack on Iraq in 2003 or the Arab revolutions in 2010, once again, the relations between the two countries were going towards confrontation and tension, but this time, the motivation for reviving the relations is, in addition to the balance of power in the region, the two countries' simultaneous need for regional stability, and this can promise stable relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the future.

The positive point in this agreement is China's positive intervention as a world power that deeply wants regional stability in West Asia and on a larger level, global stability. In this agreement, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China formed a triangle whose interests are converged and coordinated in the issue of the stability of the West Asian region. Saudi Arabia's trust in China also shows that the Saudis are following a diversification strategy in relations with great powers and have achieved political independence in regional policies.

The stability of the three countries Iran-Arabia and China in the region has important effects on the regional power structure in such a way that it changes the scales in favor of Iran and against Israel and America. Considering the traditional association of the Persian Gulf countries with Saudi Arabia, it is expected that Israel and actors who see their interest in regional instability will be in the minority.

At the same time, the revival of relations between the two countries should be considered as the starting point for building the future of relations between the two countries because there are elements that can bring the two countries into conflict and tension again. At the head of these elements are the motivations of the Zionist regime, which sees its strategic interests in the region as creating and intensifying the security bipolarity between Iran and the Arabs and increasing tension in Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia and other regional actors.

The will of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran to start diplomatic relations requires care and monitoring of uncertainties that, like strategic shocks, can rekindle the fire of tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Based on this, the diplomatic apparatus of the two countries has a serious duty to build the principles of the relations between the two countries in the future in the form of operational and constructive steps. Consolidation of Iran-Saudi relations requires constructive measures to gradually improve relations, insurer measures to control catastrophic uncertainties and send warning signs to the political decision-makers of the two countries.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have some common interests at the international, regional and national levels. Common interests can be the starting point for building new relations with Saudi Arabia. The common interests of Iran and Saudi Arabia at three international, regional and national levels that can be the basis of formative and constructive actions are:

 

International level:

  • The emergence of China as an international power that has placed its strategic interests in global and regional stability and pursues balanced relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, is a nodal and convergence point of the common interests of Iran and Saudi Arabia at the international and regional level.
  • American unilateralism is a threat to all governments, and hegemony is inherent in all governments, including Saudi Arabia. With the agreement of March 10, Saudi Arabia showed that it is not a pure subject of America.
  • The process of transfer and distribution of power from the West to the East, following the rise of Asian powers, has highlighted the perspective of the distribution of power between the West and the East.
  • America's instrumental view to Saudi Arabia has been revealed at the level of international public opinion.
  • After the fate of Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali, etc., Saudi Arabia follows the policy of diversifying its relations with other great powers after the Arab revolutions.
  • Saudi Arabia's positions regarding the war in Ukraine and its policies in OPEC are signs of diversification in this country's foreign relations.
  • The security of the Persian Gulf is of vital importance for all the Persian Gulf countries.
  • Iran and Saudi Arabia have common interests in the field of oil production and sales.
  • The political arrangement of the world after the results of the Ukraine war intensify the fields of regional cooperation or confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

 

Regional level:

  • China as a stabilizing actor (positive balancer) will reduce the structural conflicts of the West Asian region in political and security dimensions.
  • Balance of power is the real strategy of regional powers such as Iran, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
  • Hegemonism is an unattainable strategy for Iran, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
  • The Middle East is not facing an ISIS, but it is facing ISIS. The Saudi government may have organic relations with a part of ISIS, but the other part of them will carry out assassinations on Saudi soil if possible.
  • Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have common interests in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, and each of these countries has political and economic leverage in the mentioned countries.

 

National level:

  • The Sunni minority in Iran and the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia,
  • The threat of terrorism in Iran and Saudi Arabia,
  • The slow evolution in the social and political level of Iran and Saudi Arabia,
  • Pre-modern, tribal and subordinate culture in the Saudi political system,
  • Hajj diplomacy,
  • The neighborhood policy in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran and so on provide the fields of cooperation between the two countries at the national level.

Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini, senior expert at the Institute for Political and International Studies

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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