West News Wire: The surprise accord between Iran and Saudi Arabia to reestablish diplomatic ties provides much for the United States to be intrigued about, including a viable avenue to rein in Tehran’s nuclear program and a chance to solidify a ceasefire in Yemen.
However, it has a component that will undoubtedly cause great unease among Washington officials: China’s role as a peace broker in a region where the US has long exercised influence.
After four days of previously unreported negotiations between the Middle East rivals in Beijing, the agreement was made public. John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House, stated on Friday that Saudi Arabia informed US authorities of the negotiations with Iran even though Washington wasn’t actively involved.
Relations between the US and China have become highly contentious over issues ranging from trade to espionage and increasingly the two powers compete for influence in parts of the world far from their own borders.
Kirby appeared to downplay China’s involvement in Friday’s development, saying the White House believes internal and external pressure, including effective Saudi deterrence against attacks from Iran or its proxies, ultimately brought Tehran to the table.
But former senior US and UN official Jeffrey Feltman said China’s role, rather than the re-opening of embassies after six years, was the most significant aspect of the agreement.
“This will be interpreted probably accurately as a slap at the Biden administration and as evidence that China is the rising power,” said Feltman, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The agreement comes as Iran accelerates its nuclear program after two years of failed US attempts to revive a 2015 deal that aimed to stop Tehran producing a nuclear bomb.
Those efforts have been complicated by a violent crackdown by Iranian authorities on protests and tough US sanctions on Tehran over accusations of human rights abuses.
Brian Katulis, of the Middle East Institute, said that for the US and Israel the agreement offers a “new possible pathway” for reviving stalled talks on the Iran nuclear issue, with a potential partner in Riyadh.
He stated, “Saudi Arabia is extremely concerned about Iran’s nuclear program. “The worries about Iran’s nuclear program must be addressed if this new opening between Iran and Saudi Arabia is to be significant and consequential; else, the opening will be only symbolic.”
The deal reached on Friday raises the prospect of a more lasting peace in Yemen, where a conflict that began in 2014 has long been viewed as a proxy struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Despite expiring in October without a deal between the parties to prolong it, a UN-brokered truce reached in April has largely held.
Former US ambassador to Yemen Gerald Fierestein stated that Riyadh “would not have gone along with this without gaining something, whether that something is Yemen or something else is unclear.”