By Mohammad Mazhari

Saudis have realized they need modus vivendi with Iran: professor

November 13, 2021 - 16:32
‘Saudis no longer seeing Persian Gulf security as a zero-sum game’

TEHRAN - A professor of government at Georgetown University in Qatar says that the Saudis have found out that they need to work with Iran within a modus vivendi.

“Indications say that the Saudis no longer see Persian Gulf security as a zero-sum game and they have realized that they need to work out some sort of agreement and modus vivendi with Iran,” Mehran Kamrava tells the Tehran Times.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have started several rounds of talks to restore the diplomatic ties that were cut in 2016 after students attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

The attack on the Saudi embassy by a number of Iranian students came in response to Saudi extremist policies, especially its execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and number of other pro-democracy activists.

But the Saudis’ failure to achieve their goals in the war on Yemen changed the game as Riyadh is going to realize that unilateral policies are doomed to failure.

“In recent months, following successive defeats in Yemen and after the election of Biden, it appears that the Saudis are pursuing a more realistic foreign policy,” Kamrava argues.

“Whether or not they are willing to acknowledge Iran’s weight in the region, it remains to be seen,” the professor adds.

Following is the text of interview with Kamrava:

Some American politicians are talking about power sharing between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, an idea that was suggested by the Obama administration. Do you think The Saudi side is ready to acknowledge Iran's weight and influence in the region?

In the past the Saudis have acknowledged Iran’s influence in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East (West Asia). The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman followed a very different policy at least under the Trump administration. But in recent months, following successive defeats in Yemen and after the election of Biden, it appears that the Saudis are pursuing a more realistic foreign policy. Whether or not they are willing to acknowledge Iran’s weight in the region, it remains to be seen, but at least indications say that the Saudis no longer seeing Persian Gulf security as a zero-sum game and they have realized that need to work out some sort of agreement and modus vivendi with Iran.

The Saudi authorities tried to introduce a new face of the kingdom after Biden took office. This is represented in the restoration of ties with Qatar. Do you think Saudi foreign policy has changed fundamentally or that was only a superficial move?

The Saudis have realized they don’t have unconditional support from the U.S. any more with the departure of Trump from office. They need to pick and choose those areas in which they disagree with the Americans; so they decided to improve relations with Qatar but at the expense of continuing the war on Yemen.

It doesn’t seem that Saudi foreign policy has fundamentally changed, but it appears that they have been slightly modified and moderated at least since Biden’s election.

“MBS is the new Saddam Hussein of the Middle East (West Asia).”How do you see the fate of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, especially as some political observers are not optimistic about Riyadh’s approach under MBS?

Well, I think Mohammad bin Salman is the new Saddam Hussein of the Middle East (West Asia) and as a new Saddam Hussein somehow he needs to realize that Iran has interests and security concerns and Iran also needs to look for ways of dealing with the Saudis and working with them and so the two sides need to figure out how to work with another. In terms of the fate of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, I don’t know how they are going to continue.

Obviously, there are a lot of differences; on one hand storming embassies is a case of violating international laws and on the other hand the Saudis need to acknowledge Iran’s interests and security concerns. The two sides need to realize that the other side has legitimate concerns. 

How do you see the future of the kingdom after King Salman? Do you think the international community and even Saudi princes accept MBS as a king?

They have no choice but to accept him as king unless some sort of major development occurs or somehow MBS be eliminated physically. Everybody has to deal with reality that he will be the next king of Saudi Arabia and given that he is young and given that Saudi kings tend to rule for decades he is likely to be a permanent feature in the political landscape of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf as well as the Middle East (West Asia) for the next several decades and everybody has to accept him.

One thing that Mohammad bin Salman has done very effectively is to dismantle the Saudi deep state that was occupied by different members of the ruling family and so he has removed any potential opposition and he has installed only his loyal close relatives. 

Given the fallouts of the Yemen war, do you think Riyadh is eligible to play a leadership role in the GCC?

After 2017 the GCC became even more of a sham so Riyadh will want to continue to play a leading role in the Gulf Cooperation Council but I am of the opinion that Qatar doesn’t trust the Saudis and United Arab Emirates is in a marriage of convenience with the Saudis because of its animosity towards Iran and because of the Yemen war.

So I don’t think the GCC has a meaningful role to play as a multilateral organization in the security architecture of the region. It will be a form for coordinating some policies but that is nothing else.   


 

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