What Talks Did Saudi Arabia and Iran Hold?
What Talks Did Saudi Arabia and Iran Hold?
Before the Chinese foreign minister spent the Nowruz holidays in Tehran, he stopped in Riyadh. In an exclusive interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya network, Wang Yi was asked why he had picked Saudi Arabia as his first destination in the Middle East and the Gulf region and what he thinks about China-Saudi ties.
Mentioning “jointly fostering collective security” as part of China’s initiative in the region, Wang Yi said: “In promoting security and stability in the Middle East, the legitimate concerns of all parties should be accommodated. It is important to encourage equal dialogue and consultation, mutual understanding and accommodation and improved relations among Gulf countries. It is imperative to resolutely combat terrorism and advance deradicalization.
“We propose holding in China a multilateral dialogue conference for regional security in the Gulf region to explore the establishment of a Middle East trust mechanism. We may start with such subjects as ensuring the safety of oil facilities and shipping lanes, and build step by step a framework for collective, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security in the Middle East.”
After the interview, which also included Wang Yi talking about US negotiations for a return to the JCPOA and concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, China’s top diplomat went to Iran to finalize an important and significant 25-year-deal between the country and Iran.
On March 27, the day the deal was signed, Wang Yi told Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani that China was in favor of US returning to the JCPOA. He also said China supported Rouhani’s Hormuz Peace Initiative.
On Sunday, the Financial Times reported on Saudi and Iranian officials meeting in Iraq. Saudi and Iranian officials have so far neither confirmed or denied this. These meetings were less aimed at establishing ties between the two countries and more on security issues and reducing of tensions in the region between its two poles of power. They were mediated not by Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, but by planning of the Chinese government and their coordination with the US.
Using its good relations with all the countries in the region, China is in a better position to negotiate with all sides compared to the US. There remains a long path for a return to JCPOA. But reaching an interim agreement that could prepare the ground for more and deeper talks on the Iranian nuclear program requires consent of regional countries and relative improvement of the Gulf’s security conditions.
China is the biggest importer of oil from Saudi Arabia and Iran’s recent actions, from threatening the security of shipping lines in the Gulf and Hormuz Strait and Omani waters to attacks on Aramco oil installations by Houthi Iranian-made drones and missiles (according to the UN), are threatening Chinese interests.
The 25-year-deal between Iran and China, which can bring the country many economic and financial interests, could also hurt China since it would violate sanctions of the US. This means that Iran must have given an important and fundamental guarantee to attract China.
China’s commercial dealings with Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries are not comparable with its dealings with Iran. But Iran has offered cheap oil, rich maritime and mineral resources and many undeclared privileges. Most importantly, the deal help brings China to the Middle East and specifically the Gulf in competition with the US.
China’s foreign minister was in Riyadh before Tehran because he wanted to brief Saudi officials on the details of the deal. He made clear that the deal coming to life was dependent on reducing tensions and Tehran agreeing to security talks with the Saudis.
If this analysis is correct, we can say that the US, or to say it more correctly, President Biden, has given up the solving of regional conflicts to China.
If China has coordinated with the US and took responsibility for controlling the unpredictable behavior of Tehran, we can say that Iran not only sold its soil and water to the Chinese but also conditioned its own survival on them. A regime broken by the sanctions and hated by its own people is now propped up only with the help of China.
For the famed Iran, which once had the biggest civilization in history, the humiliating remark of China’s foreign minister while speaking to the president of the republic, that he hoped China could provide Iran with more coronavirus vaccines after the deal, is unforgettable. Signing a massive deal in exchange for coronavirus vaccines!
Speaking to Al Arabiya, China’s foreign minister said his country had signed Belt and Road Initiative papers with all GCC members. In 2020, China-GCC trade surpassed 160 billion dollars and made Beijing the biggest commercial partner of the bloc and largest market for petrochemical exports. The two sides are now discussing the possibility of a free trade area between them. China is ready to work with the GCC for more progress and more ties.
These “progress and ties” with the GCC countries requires an understanding with Iran that could ease its tensions with China’s biggest commercial partners in the region.