Volume. 12231

Iran has the upper hand in the region: NY Times
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In an article published on Friday on the website of the New York Times, the writer comments on the regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, saying Iran currently has the upper hand in the region.
The following are excerpts of the article written by Ben Hubbard: 
The fevered struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional dominance has for years (affected) nearly every (development) across the Middle East.   
So it has come as a surprise to many here that even with the region still in tumult, there have been signs that both powers are looking to temper their … rivalry.
But as officials in Riyadh and Tehran give hints of détente, the reality, experts say, is that the two (countries) are more likely circling as they adjust to shifting regional dynamics. For the moment, Iran has the upper hand, having successfully staked its position on supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war and having opened talks with Washington over its nuclear program.
“Iran is in a stronger position than Saudi right now,” said an adviser to the Saudi government, speaking anonymously in order to be more candid. “They have more cards.”
Iran’s current … leg up has implications in key areas where it has sparred with the Saudi kingdom, and the United States. It reinforces Iran’s position in Iraq, bolsters its allies who … reject Israel and gives momentum to forces opposed to American influence in the region.
The shift also has emboldened Iran to seek stronger economic ties with other (Persian Gulf) states that Saudi Arabia would like to have firmly in its own camp.
This leaves Saudi leaders trying to figure out how they have been outmaneuvered. Saudi Arabia also feels imperiled by what it sees as its allies in the Obama administration pulling back from the Middle East, while the Syrian rebels it has backed fracture and lose ground.
The kingdom has gained outsize leverage with Egypt after propping up its treasury with billions of dollars, but Egypt’s regional influence and agenda have narrowed as it focuses on stabilizing its domestic situation. So with Iran continuing to exert its influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Yemen, the Saudis issued an invitation for Iran’s foreign minister to visit.
Yet a willingness to talk does not necessarily signal a willingness to close the yawning gaps that remain between the two sides, according to analysts and regional officials.
“When you look at the nature of the conflicts they are fighting, they are not raging because of a lack of dialogue between Tehran and Riyadh,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “There are serious geopolitical, ethnic, sectarian and ideological differences at play.”
Iran has trumpeted its views on the most immediate of those differences — whom to blame for the civil war in Syria. During a visit to Iran this week by the emir of Kuwait, Iran’s Supreme Leader implicitly accused Saudi Arabia of backing takfiris, or extremists who consider those who do not follow their interpretation of Islam to be infidels.
“By offering assistance to the takfiri groups, some regional countries are now supporting their killings and crimes in Syria and in a number of other countries,” said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to the Tasnim news agency.
Since his election last year, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has sought to … improve its economy by joining the nuclear talks and sending his foreign minister to strengthen ties with other (Persian Gulf) states.
Some of those countries, too, see benefits in building ties with Iran.
One of the Kuwaiti emir’s goals in visiting Tehran was to seek a deal to import Iranian natural gas, Kuwait’s oil minister told the country’s state news service, KUNA.
In January, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, told the BBC that sanctions on Iran should be eased, adding that “everybody will benefit.”
Saudi Arabia has responded to Iranian overtures with … distrust, despite the announcement last month by the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, that he had invited his Iranian counterpart to Riyadh.
“Iran is a neighbor,” Prince Saud said. “We have relations with them and we will negotiate with them.”
Saudi leaders, who have long considered their alliance with Washington crucial to national security, have watched warily as President Obama has prioritized the Iranian nuclear deal over other regional issues. They also feel betrayed because Mr. Obama has not given greater backing to Syria’s rebels.
Saudi Arabia has sought to adjust by promoting security cooperation in the (Persian Gulf). And in April, it dropped its traditional discretion about military matters by televising its largest-ever maneuvers and showing off powerful ballistic missiles.
But in addition to doubting Iran’s intentions, the Saudis are wary of offering any concessions of their own in a conflict both sides often see as a zero-sum game.
Saudi officials say they feel they have largely “lost” Iraq. That gives them all the more reason not to give up on the rebels in Syria. But Saudi Arabia’s main hope is that the strain of Iran’s extensive support for Mr. Assad will cause it to seek a deal — a prospect analysts dismiss as unlikely as long as Mr. Assad’s forces are advancing.
“Two years ago, the conventional wisdom was that Assad’s collapse was imminent, and now no one is talking about Assad leaving,” said Mr. Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment. “So why on earth would they feel the need to drop him now, given all they have invested?”

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