Tariq Al-Homayed
Saudi journalist and writer, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Saudi Iranian Relations…Are Things Changing?

Saudi Arabia and Iran announced the re-establishment of diplomatic ties through a Chinese initiative. This is not the first time that relations between them have been re-established; they had been severed for the first in April 1988 before being severed again in January 2016, due to the Iranian attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

It is normal for the two countries to have diplomatic relations, even if at the lowest level of representation because the two countries have several matters on which they diverge as a result of Iran’s expansionist approach, which is not Riyadh’s approach. Well, relations have resumed, so have their divergences become a thing of the past? Of course not.

The statement issued after relations were resumed emphasizes the approach Saudi Arabia has always taken - respect for good neighborliness and international agreements and non-interfere in the affairs of others. The simplest example is the reactivation of the security cooperation agreement.

Signed in 2001, it was known as the “Nayef-Rouhani agreement,” in reference to Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, may God have mercy upon his soul, and Hassan Rouhani. This affirms the consistency of Saudi Arabia’s approach and Iran’s non-compliance.

Saudi-Iranian relations were also resumed in earlier periods, during the terms of Hashemi Rafsanjani and then Mohammad Khatami. These experiences also showed the Saudis that the men they had seen as the doves of Iran were not so, and so the Saudis have plenty of experience in dealing with Iran. Here someone might say: What has changed then?

The fact is that Saudi Arabia has not changed. What has changed is that the Iranian regime is undergoing an existential crisis. However, anyone who believes that Riyadh has thrown Tehran a lifeline at this time is mistaken, as the Iranian crisis is of the regime’s making, and Iran’s crisis is purely domestic.

There is also an external Iranian crisis, a more complicated one, which was engendered by Iran’s nuclear program, and Riyadh does not have a hand in that either. Saudi Arabia would not be involved if Iran is attacked by the United States or Israel, which always hints at this prospect.

The situation in the region shows us that Saudi Arabia is now in a much stronger position, both economically and politically. Meanwhile, Iran is faced with crises internally and externally. Riyadh does not want to get involved in these crises; it wants regional relations to be built on cooperation, not confrontation.

Hence, there was an opportunity for one side that works on development day and night, Saudi Arabia, and another party that is skeptical of any form of progress, Iran. The story has different dimensions; though Tehran has never committed to an agreement, not with Saudi Arabia nor anyone else, however, this time the Chinese are involved.

China is this agreement's guarantor, meaning that there will be consequences if Tehran does not comply. This certainly bothers Washington and the Europeans, but they, Washington and the West have not been serious about the region’s security since concluding the Iranian nuclear agreement in 2015.

And so, Saudi Arabia has worked to further its interests, recalibrating its political position so as not to be a party to any conflict and devote itself to development... Has Riyadh changed? No, it continued with its reasonable approach grounded in dialogue. Is Iran honest? History says: no.

Has Saudi Arabia rushed into this? Not in the slightest. Taking a reasonable approach and defusing tension has always been the Kingdom’s approach. It is seeking stability and keeping its eyes open. Finally, will the region change? We hope so, but the question of Iran’s nuclear program is bigger than we imagine.