China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia turns Middle East diplomacy upside down and challenges the United States.

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Finally, there is a Middle East Peace Agreement. Not between Israel and the Arabs, but between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who have been at odds for decades. And with the mediation not of the United States but of China. A new geopolitical scenario with Washington, on the sidelines.

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This is one of craziest and most turbulent developments than anyone could have imagined, a change that has turned heads in capitals around the world. The alliances and rivalries that have governed diplomacy for generations have been turned upside down, at least for the time being.

Americans, who have been the central players in the Middle East for the past three-quarters of a century, almost always the ones in the room where things happen, now sWe are on the sidelines during a time of significant change.

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The Chinese, who for years have played only a minor role in the region, have suddenly become the new power player. And the Israelis, who courted the Saudis against their mutual adversaries in Tehran, now they wonder where this novelty is taking them.

Chinese diplomat Wang Yi during the opening ceremony of the historic rapprochement between Iran and the Saudi kingdom, a notable turning point in regional and global geopolitics.  afp

Chinese diplomat Wang Yi during the opening ceremony of the historic rapprochement between Iran and the Saudi kingdom, a notable turning point in regional and global geopolitics. afp

“This is a big deal,” acknowledges Amy Hawthorne, deputy director of research for the Middle East Democracy Project, a nonprofit group in Washington. “The United States could not have negotiated such an agreement with Iran, since we have no relationship.”

“But in a broader sense, China’s prestigious achievement fits it a new diplomatic league and it dwarfs everything the United States has been able to achieve in the region since Biden took office,” he adds.

The White House has publicly welcomed the restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran and has not expressed any overt concerns about Beijing’s role in bringing the two together. Privately, Joe Biden’s advisers suggested that too much was being done for the breakthrough and scoffed at suggestions that a erosion of American flu in the area.

Moreover, for Iran and Saudi Arabia, after decades of clashes, the decision to reopen the embassies closed in 2016 represents just a first step. It does not mean that the Sunnis of Riyadh and the Shiites of Tehran have put aside all their deep and visceral differences.

The key to the deal, the Saudis told the Americans, was Iran’s commitment stop more attacks against Saudi Arabia and reduce support for militant groups against the kingdom.

old rivalries

Iran and Saudi Arabia effectively waged a devastating proxy war in Yemen, where Tehran-aligned Houthi rebels fought Saudi forces. for eight years. A truce brokered with support from the United Nations and the Biden administration last year largely halted hostilities.

The UN estimated early last year that more than 377,000 people had died during wartime due to violence, famine or disease. At the same time, the Houthis have launched hundreds of missiles and armed drones against Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Biden once vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state for orchestrating the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based Saudi columnist for the Washington Post. But he reluctantly agreed to visit the kingdom last year as he tries to bring down fuel prices. affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Now Riyadh is turning to the Chinese. “Some people in the Gulf clearly see it as the Chinese century”said Steven A. Cook, a Middle Eastern studies scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The Saudis have expressed interest in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (led by Beijing) and a large portion of their oil goes to China.”

“It’s a sign of Chinese agility to tap some of the anger directed at the United States from Saudi Arabia and some emptiness there,” he said. “But it’s a reflection that the Saudis and Iranians have been talking about for some time,” she says.

China reunited Saudi Arabia with Iran at a time when Israel expected the US to reunite it with Saudi Arabia. Having established diplomatic relations with other Gulf states, the UAE and Bahrain, Israel longs to be able to do so with Saudi Arabia as well.

Such a move would mark a fundamental shift for Israel with its long-hostile neighborhood. But the Saudis had asked more than Washington is willing to give. In exchange for opening formal ties with Israel, the Saudis have asked for security guarantees from the United States, help to develop a civilian nuclear program and less restrictions on arms sales.

As for Iran, even as hostilities in Yemen have calmed down, the Biden administration failed to revive a nuclear deal with Tehran negotiated in 2015 by President Barack Obama and then abandoned by Donald Trump.

Two years of diplomacy stalled, and UN watchdog says Iran now has enough highly enriched uranium to do it build various nuclear weapons if you wish, even if you haven’t perfected a headboard yet.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is trying to gain space in strategic regions that the United States is abandoning.  AFP extension

Chinese President Xi Jinping is trying to gain space in strategic regions that the United States is abandoning. AFP extension

Hampered by US sanctions, Iran has moved deepen its relations with Russia and now with China. Tehran has supplied much-needed drones for Russia to use in its war in Ukraine.

No to a coalition with the Saudis against Iran

By turning to Beijing to mediate with the Saudis, Iran is elevating China in the region and trying to escape the isolation imposed by Washington. And Israel sees its hopes for an anti-Iranian coalition with Saudi Arabia evidently dashed.

Biden administration officials say Iran is under real pressure and suffering deep economic hardship as a result of US sanctions. But that also doesn’t mean that China, a signatory to the original nuclear deal, wants the Persian power to have a nuclear weapon.

If Beijing has new leverage in Tehran, US officials hope it may be able to use it to do so curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Still, it’s baffling to many veteran US lawmakers to see China play such a big role in a region after years of gains.

China has been seeking military bases of its own in the region as it seeks energy resources and influence beyond Asia. The decision to get involved in the rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran makes that clear there is another player to consider. Change the regional order.

Source: Clarin

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