Analysts: China’s Role as Guarantor Will Test Commitment to Saudi-Iran Agreement

Musaad bin Mohammed Al Aiban, Minister of State and national security adviser of Saudi Arabia, Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, sign the agreement in Beijing on Friday. (SPA)
Musaad bin Mohammed Al Aiban, Minister of State and national security adviser of Saudi Arabia, Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, sign the agreement in Beijing on Friday. (SPA)
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Analysts: China’s Role as Guarantor Will Test Commitment to Saudi-Iran Agreement

Musaad bin Mohammed Al Aiban, Minister of State and national security adviser of Saudi Arabia, Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, sign the agreement in Beijing on Friday. (SPA)
Musaad bin Mohammed Al Aiban, Minister of State and national security adviser of Saudi Arabia, Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, sign the agreement in Beijing on Friday. (SPA)

Analysts said the China-sponsored agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore relations must lead to stability, cooperation and peace in the region.

The agreement, however, demands a different type of Iranian commitment, they told Asharq Al-Awsat.

China’s role of guarantor will be fundamental in determining how serious Iran will commit to its pledges, they stressed.

Any wavering by Tehran in meeting its pledges will directly impact its ties with Beijing, they explained.

Yemen will be the first arena where the agreement will be really tested, they went on to say.

If the situation there improves in the next two months, then improvements will be witnessed in other more complex regional files.

Saudi writer Jasser al-Jasser said meddling was at the core of the problems between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The problems were never on the bilateral level, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I believe that the negotiations will seek out clear stances and specific commitments from Iran over various files,” he added.

Friday’s most significant factor was the emergence of China as the guarantor of the agreement, he noted. “Iran is not reliable when it comes to meeting pledges, so Saudi Arabia appreciates China’s position given the strong relations they enjoy.”

China’s presence as a guarantor will test just how committed Iran is, al-Jasser remarked.

He predicted that the agreement will be soon put to the test in Yemen. This will be the fundamental beginning and determine how serious Iran is about its pledges.

If no progress is made in Yemen, then the agreement will be as good as over and it would be as if the ties were never restored, he stated.

On how come the agreement was struck this week and not years ago, he explained that Saudi Arabia’s stances had remained the same in recent years.

What changed was Iran’s commitment and the emergence of China as a guarantor, he noted.

"Worst case scenario, would be for Iran to renege on its commitments and the situation will return to the way it was. We have offered all options and opportunities to Iran and even foreign parties became involved,” said al-Jasser.

If Iran fails to meet its pledges, then its regime will be as good as over because its ties with China, and even Russia, will be impacted by its failure to commit, which would be interpreted as undermining of international commitments and relations, he said.

Moreover, he stated that the agreement was an “excellent” Saudi step that encourages cooperation, peace and stability with all parties.

It is an opportunity to Iran to prove just how serious - or not - it is, he remarked.

Saudi political analyst Dr. Khaled Batarafi told Asharq Al-Awsat that Saudi security was the first issue that was brought to the table at the talks with Iran.

He added that Iran’s destabilizing policies in the region may have also been addressed given that the security of the Gulf and Arab countries is closely tied to that of the Kingdom.

China’s presence as a guarantor demonstrates its strong relations with Riyadh and Tehran and its strategic interests in the region, he went on to say.



For Palestinian Athletes, the Olympics is About More than Sports

Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)
Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)
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For Palestinian Athletes, the Olympics is About More than Sports

Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)
Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)

Most of the athletes representing the Palestinian territories at the Paris Olympics were born elsewhere — Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Germany, Chile and the United States — yet they care deeply about the politics of their parents’ and grandparents’ homeland.

They are eager to compete but say their presence at the Games isn’t only, or even primarily, about sports. With Israel and Hamas locked in a brutal war that has killed tens of thousands in Gaza, these eight athletes — two of whom hail from the West Bank — carry heavier burdens.

Yazan Al Bawwab, a 24-year-old swimmer who was born in Saudi Arabia and lives in Dubai, said he doesn't expect recognition for his performance in the pool. He uses swimming, he said, as a "tool for Palestine.”

“Unfortunately, nobody has ever asked me about my races. Nobody cares,” said al Bawwab, whose parents come from Jerusalem and Lod, a city that today is in central Israel. “I’m going to be plain and honest: France does not recognize Palestine as a country. But I’m over there, raising my flag. That’s my role.”

Omar Ismail, who was born in Dubai to parents who come from the West Bank town of Jenin, has loftier athletic ambitions. Shortly after earning his spot on the team at a taekwondo qualification tournament in China, the 18-year-old said he aims to win a gold medal in Paris.

But even if he does not earn a medal, Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself, The AP reported.

“I represent the identity of the people in Palestine, their steadfastness,” Ismail said. “I’d like to inspire the children of Palestine, show them that each of them can achieve their goals, give them hope.”

Even under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to maintain a vibrant Olympics training program in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Nine months of war between Israel and Hamas has made that challenge next to impossible.

Much of the country’s sporting infrastructure, clubs and institutions have been demolished, said Nader Jayousi, the technical director at the Palestine Olympic Committee.

“Do you know how many approved pools there are in Palestine? Zero,” said al Bawaab, who noted that the Palestinian economy is too small and fragile to consistently support the development of elite athletes. “There is no sports in Palestine. We are a country right now that does not have enough food or shelter, and we are trying to figure out how to stay alive. We are not a sports country yet.”

The Palestinian diaspora has always played an important role at the Olympics and other international competitions, Jayousi said.

Jayousi said it’s not the first time that most of the athletes representing the POC come from abroad. He said the Palestinian diaspora is always represented at any big international sporting competition and Olympics.

More than 38,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war between Israel and Hamas began, according to local health officials. Among those who died were about 300 athletes, referees, coaches and others working in Gaza's sports sector, according to Jayousi.

Perhaps the most prominent Palestinian athlete to die in the war was long-distance runner Majed Abu Maraheel, who in 1996 in Atlanta became the first Palestinian to compete in the Olympics. He died of kidney failure earlier this year after he was unable to be treated in Gaza and could not be evacuated to Egypt, Palestinian officials said.

Only one Palestinian athlete, Ismail, qualified for the Paris Games in his own right. The seven others gained their spots under a wild-card system delivered as part of the universality quota places.. Backed by the International Olympic Committee, it allows athletes who represent poorer nations with less-established sports programs to compete, even though they did not meet the sporting criteria.

“We had very high hopes that we would go to Paris 2024 with qualified athletes,” Jayousi, the team's technical director, said. “We lost lots of these chances because of the complete stoppage of every single activity in the country.”

Palestinian athletes will compete in boxing, judo, swimming, shooting, track and field and taekwondo.

There is a chance Palestinian athletes could compete against Israelis in Paris. The Israel Olympic Committee said it is sending 88 athletes to Paris, and that they would compete against athletes from anywhere.

Jayousi declined to say whether clear guidelines have been issued to Palestinian athletes about whether they would be expected — as a form of protest against the war in Gaza — to drop out of competition rather than face Israelis.

“Let's see what the draws will put our athletes against," he said. “We know what we want to do, but we don't have to say everything that we want to do.”

One Olympic hopeful who did not make the cut was Gaza-born weightlifter Mohammed Hamada, a flag bearer at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. When the war began, Hamada moved to Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah and trained there for 25 days. But because of the shortage of food, Hamada — who competed in the 102 kilograms (225 pounds) weight class — gradually lost about 18 kilograms (40 pounds).

Hamada eventually secured a visa to leave Gaza and moved to Qatar to continue his training. But, Jayousi said, he just couldn't get his body back to Olympic-level condition.

Jayousi said winning medals is not the top priority for the athletes who made it to Paris. (No Palestinian athlete has ever won an Olympic medal).

“We are going here to show our Palestinianism,” he said. “We are focused on fighting until the last second, which we have been doing as a nation for the last 80 years.”

Al Bawaab said he wants to empower the next generation of Palestinian athletes, in part by providing them with greater financial resources. He founded the Palestinian Olympians Association to help athletes prepare for sports and life beyond, including by providing them with mental-health support.

"We don’t have that sports culture yet,” al Bawaab said. “When I’m done swimming, we’ll hopefully get that rolling in the country. But you have to be safe first.”