Saudi Arabia and Iran, who have ceased diplomatic relations since 2016, are on the negotiation table again. Britain’s Financial Times, which first divulged the behind-the-door talks says senior officials on both sides are in Baghdad, Iraq for the negotiations.
Riyadh and Tehran support opposing political parties in the region and have led crisis-stricken relations in previous years.
Officials and lawmakers close to the talks’ development say Iraq is not currently being discussed, and that the emphasis has now been on other topics that the two parties consider to be more important.
According to an Iraqi official, “Iraq is the broker in these negotiations and therefore it will not be part of these talks, especially since the Saudi influence in Iraq is very limited. Therefore, the priority is other files.”
Riyadh seems to be in a “weaker” position in the talks, and it appears to have a larger stake in the talks’ success, since Saudi Arabia has put all its gambling chances on Trump’s side and his defeat in the election changed the game condition in the Middle East. Biden administration appears does not take Saudi regime as a crucial regional ally.
Biden administration’s urgent attempt to revive nuclear deal with Iran and terminate the war on Yemen clearly signaled US new strategy towards Saudi Arabia. Having received the signal, Riyadh is making attempt to recalibrate its strategy in the region.
The two adversaries are fighting through Yemen’s crippling war. Yemen is another country where Iran is attempting to expand its reach by supporting and manipulating local Shiite Muslim communities. Houthis control the majority of the country’s northern region.
According to the United Nations, the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the current situation in Yemen. 80 percent of the country, comprising more than 24 million citizens, are now in heavily poor condition and in urgent need of international help.
As with Syria, another point of difference between the two countries, the Saudis have had a tense alliance with the country. Saudi monarchy had opposing policies with the country’s previous ruler, Hafez al-Assad, and his successor due to the country’s democratic path. US invasion of Iraq was harshly opposed by Syria, while Saudi Arabia moved for it. The diverse political and strategic divergences led to Saudis’ open animosity with Damascus, providing arms and financial assistance to Syrian rebels.
As with Iran, Syria plays a vital part in Tehran’s sphere of control in the region. Extending from Iraq to Syria, Lebanon to the Israeli border, Iran finds Syria significant in controlling and taming the regional threats.
Lebanon and Israel are also two other points on which the two countries hold opposing views. Reports indicate that among long list of divergences, Yemen and Lebanon has been on the top of the list for the two sides and are being negotiated in Baghdad.
The two countries are under severe economic strain. Oil price drop has debilitated the Saudi government’s financial condition, further intensifying its debts. By the end of 2020, the national debt of the Saudi Arabia rose over 33% of its GDP.
Saudi Arabia’s changing conduct over Iran and Yemen shows the significance of international and regional developments on the future of people various countries. From Yemen, to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, UAE, and even Afghanistan, many countries may be affected by the result of the ongoing negotiations. Saudi Arabia’s decision to change role in face of political and security challenges shows the region’s reliance on outside influences. With Trump’s age fading, Saudis’ unilateral arrogant conduct is fading too.