Since the crisis in relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia started on January 2, 2016, with the issue of this country's embassy and consulate in Tehran and Mashhad, I considered the revival of relations between Tehran and Riyadh to be the key to solving many crises in Iran's foreign policy, and to explain this idea; I published many articles and analyses. My main idea, which was and is based on extensive empirical evidence, include:
The solution to some of Iran's foreign policy crises, especially in the area of the neighborhood, the Persian Gulf, the Arab world, the Islamic world, and even the nuclear case of Iran (from the perspective of the activism of the active lobbies of the Saudi in the United States) is the Saudi government.
Mr. Rouhani's government, at least in the first four years, set the international system as its starting point for solving the crises of Iran's foreign policy, to enter from the international level to the regional level with full hands and with strong levers and with the assumption that regional actors will act according to their will at the behest of the great powers, and resolve Iran's regional issues as well.
Trump's withdrawal from the JCPOA and the obvious role of the destructive Arab and Zionist lobbies in Trump's decision-making process regarding the JCPOA proved to the previous government that the Middle East and especially the Persian Gulf had found another identity and has changed from a passive region to an active region with strong and influential actors in a world value chain.
Mr. Raisi's government, benefiting from the experiences of the previous government with a different approach, correctly and intelligently decided to enter into negotiations with the international system through regional issues through communication with neighbors and effective regional actors instead of entering the regional issues with the great powers by negotiations. For this reason, he chose the neighborhood policy and expansion of relations with Asian powers as the main topics of his foreign policy. The decision of Iran and Saudi Arabia to revive diplomatic relations on March 10, 2023, with the mediation of China, was the beginning of the right process in the foreign policy of Iran and Saudi Arabia, which undoubtedly the dynamics and development of this process have positive geopolitical and geostrategic effects for Tehran and Riyadh, as well as for the region and the great powers that want stability in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
In the meantime, the basic question is:
Why did the two countries decide to end the political tensions between them? The answer is clear: Iran and Saudi Arabia reached a common point at this stage. Regional stability and the asymmetric need of each other are the two main factors in the decision of Tehran and Riyadh to revive relations between the two countries, but why asymmetrical? Why does Saudi Arabia need to revive relations with Iran more than Iran? This is the point that should be pondered over intelligently.
In the new foreign policy approach, which it has laid the groundwork for and invested heavily, Saudi Arabia follows the policy of increasing the prestige of Saudi Arabia through participation in the world value chain. Diversifying relations with great powers and expanding relations with Asian powers, attracting foreign investment to benefit both politically and economically, investing in economic and financial projects at the regional and international level, active participation in international organizations, institutions, and regimes by accepting general financial costs, the branding of Saudi Arabia in the media through the attraction of sports stars and etc. are the systematic roadmap of Saudi Arabia to increase its prestige at the international level.
This procedure is in complete contradiction with Saudi Arabia's war-mongering in Yemen, while Saudi Arabia is desperate in the Yemen war and is looking for a dignified way out of this crisis. On the other hand, the Saudi rulers consider de-escalation with Israel as necessary and inevitable in the medium-term normalization process, and they must lay the groundwork for normalization with Israel. Therefore, from the point of view of the Saudi rulers, participation in the world value chain, a dignified exit from Yemen, and reducing the cost of normalization with Israel will not necessarily be realized in a tense atmosphere with Iran. The continuation of the confrontation with Iran not only faces the goals of Saudi foreign policy with serious obstacles but also adds new knots to regional crises in Saudi Arabia. Based on this, from the point of view of the Saudi rulers, it is necessary to resolve their tensions with Iran, at least in the short term.
On the part of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the neighborhood policy without de-escalation with Saudi Arabia will face great obstacles. The management of sanctions and the opening of loopholes to bypass the oppressive sanctions of the United States need severely the cooperation of the neighbors of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This mutual need has caused Tehran and Riyadh to enter into an exchange. By understanding these conditions and emphasizing the asymmetric needs of the parties, the basic question is, what does the Islamic Republic of Iran give, and what does it get?
The visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to Saudi Arabia and especially his one-and-a-half-hour conversation with Mohammed bin Salman was about the future roadmap of Iran-Saudi Arabia relations. In the lines announced by Mr. Amir-Abdollahian regarding the content of his talks with Mohammed bin Salman, issues such as Saudi investment, facilities for the presence of pilgrim tourists in Iran, and increasing sports cooperation were raised. But there is no doubt that his conversation with Mohammad bin Salman also has unwritten interlines. What concessions will the Islamic Republic of Iran receive from Saudi Arabia for its regional security advantages, including its influential levers in Yemen and the Persian Gulf?
Therefore, according to the needs of Saudi Arabia in recent times, if what Iran gets from Saudi Arabia as interlines is a guarantee of cooperation in regional issues, management of sanctions, and pressure on the United States to reduce economic pressures on Iran with the mediation of Saudis and Saudi investment, and in a word, a strategic partnership, then what these two important regional countries gave and what they get from two countries are balanced and intelligent.
Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini, a senior expert at the IPIS
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)