By Abir Bassam

Saudis pursue Washington’s goals in talks with Iran

September 19, 2021 - 13:53

It is not an easy task to start a new relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia, though in politics everything is possible.

The two states have been barricading behind their political doctrine differences. However, they are trying! Until today, they have finished three rounds of talks in an attempt to restore diplomatic ties and put ground roles to enhance bilateral relationships. But it seems that the fourth session of discussions is facing difficulties.

The diplomatic relationship between Tehran and Riyadh was cut off in early 2016 after the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran. This has led to complications in the relations. But in fact, it was an accumulated difference between the two states that led to a stalemate. One of the most important reasons is related to the different alliances each state is leading where each side is part of contradicting alliances that are having a different set of priorities in the (Persian) Gulf and the Arab region. 

Many attribute the differences between the two states to a competition to become the leader of the Islamic world. Others attribute it to sectarian differences. Nonetheless, the same kind of differences confronts the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This is on the surface, and what lies beneath is deeper than it looks, since the differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are based on political-ideological disagreements.

Saudi Arabia has been seeing the Islamic Revolution of Iran as a threat to the Saudi monarchy, since the early days of the revolution in 1979.

On the other hand, the open discussions on social media and in TV programs always refer to the following files.  One of the most important files is Yemen. The Arab alliance against Yemen is facing catastrophic defeats, especially for the Saudis, who are accusing Iran of supporting the Houthis in the war against the “Arab” Alliance intervention in Yemen. 

“The Arab alliance against Yemen is facing catastrophic defeats, especially for the Saudis.”

The attitude of the Alliance is inconceivable. They act as if the Houthis represent a strange militia that needs to be controlled, and not as part of the Yemeni population. In addition, the Arab Alliance, as it is referred to, in its reality is a Saudi-UAE- American-Israeli alliance.

The second file is the relation between Iran and Hezbollah, the Islamic resistance in Lebanon. Hezbollah has officially declared its support to the Yemenis’ resistance to the Intervention. The discrepancy between Hezbollah and the Saudis is deep since the suspicious role the latter has played in supporting the “Israeli” war on Lebanon in 2006 to disarm Hezbollah. This fact was declared in many of Sayyed Hassan Nasrullah’s speeches. 

The fourth file is the relation between Iran and al-Hashed al-Shaabi in Iraq. The Saudis insist that Iran should break its ties with the group and stop supporting its fighters. They even call these groups Militias. They do not even see them as part of the Iraqi population, who fought ISIS, a terrorist group that played a destructive role in bringing Iraq into disorder and chaos.

 In fact, the Saudis see that their role in Iraq should be of greater importance because Iraq is an Arab country, and the ties should be closer; however, it has lost its grip in favor of Iran. 

The fifth file is the Syrian file. Saudi Arabia is dealing with the file as if Syria is a quasi-state and its file needs to be run through agreements among parties. The Saudi Arabian monarchy holds a venom against President al-Assad. Let us remember, the minute Mr. Assad described Arab leaders in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as semi-men, in a speech he gave after “Israeli” War against Lebanon in July 2006. During this period the Iranian-Syrian relationships witnessed more improvement and became more strategic and more annoying to their foes in particular “Israel”.

The sixth file is definitely related to supporting the Palestinian resistance inside Palestine. Undoubtedly, Hezbollah is participating in this support, which the Americas and the Israelis are of great concern about. Ideologically, the resistance axis, especially Hezbollah, believes in ending the Israeli existence. 

The six points mentioned above are the key points that hold back the progress in the Vienna talks between Iran and G5+1. Actually, it is hard not to consider them, since most of the controversial issues with Saudi Arabia also revolve around the same points. Therefore, it is hard to reflect on any true agreement between the Saudis and the Iranians without the American accord. Hence, it is not difficult to understand the means behind the end foreseen results which is securing the “Israel’s” peace and security. 

Furthermore, an American retaliation airstrike took place 10 days after an attack on American’s targets on the 15th of February in Iraq; the airstrike targeted, as the BBC describes them as, Iran-backed militia groups, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, who are allied with the Damascus government, on the borders between Boukamal in Syria and Qaim in Iraq.      

The BBC explains that the message to Tehran behind the airstrike is: “just because we're willing to sit down and talk doesn't mean [that] your proxies around the region can do what they want.” BBC continues, “The message came at a time when Biden’s administration is checking ways to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.”

 In addition, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the strike was meant to punish the militias but not to escalate tensions with Iran. Taking into consideration, since 2009, the U.S. has designated the two groups as terrorist organizations, accusing them of threatening the peace and stability of Iraq.

In reviewing the course of restoring the Iranian-Saudi relationship, Saudi Arabia’s intent was not really clear, when Iran declared on April 21st the second round of talks. However, the Saudis did not even confirm the information about the first round, held in Baghdad, until it was exposed by the American press. The Saudi attitude towards the conformation is not fully understood. It seems that they were dragged to the talks by the Americans. However, the talks were withheld at the same time in which Iran’s indirect talks with the Americans to return to the nuclear agreement were withheld. 

It has become common knowledge that the Iranians refused to include the Saudis in the neo-nuclear talks. Both states see the other party as a source of instability in the region; even though both parties have started new talks since April. The main issue Saudi Arabia is bushing towards is stopping the Iranian support to the Houthis in Yemen. However, the other list is mostly American demands, which the Saudis are including so that to retrieve normal relations with Iran. 

According to France Press, at the end of April, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia Muhammad bin Selman said: “He is hoping for a good relationship with Iran”.  This acknowledgment was later affirmed by the declaration of Mr. Faissal bin Farhan, the Saudi Foreign Minister, the same article quotes him: "We hope that the Iranians will see that in their interest is to work with their neighbors in a positive way that leads to security, stability and prosperity… I can only hope.” However, stability and prosperity are two big words Saudi Arabia cannot fully understand them outside the American context.

Accordingly, Biden’s administration recently declared that it is ready now to restart the talks with Iran under Ibrahim Raisi’s leadership as soon as possible. Consequently, the Saudi will follow. The U.S. has declared that it needs to finish and seal the nuclear agreement. It is cleverly timed. The American withdrawal from Afghanistan is supposed to complicate the regional situation and push Iran into closing the nuclear agreement in America’s best interest. And that is why the Saudis are waiting for American approval to acknowledge whether any Saudi- Iranian talks will lead to the best interest of the Americans and “the Israelis”, or not.

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