A second meeting between the foreign ministers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran on April 6, in Peking barely 26 days after the two mega Mideast rivals, had agreed to restore their diplomatic relations within two months, has stirred the hopes for a further swift surge of peace, progress and interaction in the region. The accord to reopen their embassies, resume flights, expand new avenues in economic development and facilitate the cooperation between their private sectors, could evidently be a prelude to transforming the Middle East, long torn by the crises of confrontations, wars and proxy ambitions. Barely three days after the Peking parleys, for instance, a Saudi delegate accompanied by some Omani leaders, arrived in Yemen to meet the Houthi high-ups of the Supreme Political Council, raising the hopes for some relief or ceasefire in this land ravaged by nine years of war, vengeance hunger, disease, deaths, and displacements. The exchange of about 900 Saudi prisoners held by Houthis is to commence on 13 April, enabling them to enjoy the Eid with their families this Eid.
The rapid developments are, in fact, imparting a new dimension of peace and cooperation to the earlier promise by Prince Salman, the Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, that the Mideast in the next five years would emerge as a new Europe. Earlier his focus seemed to be mostly on the Kingdom’s vision of economic excellence and diversification, ensuring more rights, equality and avenues to women, not merely in education, sports, tourism, entertainment and other sectors but also sending a first-ever Arab woman astronaut in space. Yet this accord, true to his assertions to evolve as modern Europe, has also added a new momentum for Mideast peace, cooperation and tolerance that have become the hallmark of twenty-seven European countries, that have moved far beyond their two thousand years of wars and ravages. Mideast similarly may embrace a new era of harmony, softer borders and shared strategies.
Another swift spin-off of this agreement was the revelation that Saudi Arabia and Syria, staunch allies of Iran, were also striving to reopen their embassies after Eid-al- Fitr. The restoration after over a decade of diplomatic rupture is even more encouraging. Saudi Arabia has supported supplying weapons, ammunition and finances to the anti-Assad government rebel groups ever since a civil war to dislodge his government started there in 2011. Syria closed the Saudi embassy which was reciprocated with the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador in 2012. Following this rupture, Saudi Arabia became the main source of support and finance for the rebels.
Iran in contrast, has been consistently pro-Assad and furnished strategic support and finances amounting to $9 billion to Syria. Restoration of Saudi’s relations with Syria and Iran, thus evidently signals some respite in the Syrian civil strife especially because Assad has already paid two official visits to the UAE. His first-ever official visit on March 19 last year, was followed by yet another visit, interestingly on the same date this year. The relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as elicited by their rapid follow-up in Peking, also seem to be moving quite faster. The initial agreement stipulated the opening of their embassies within two months, however, only ten days after its signing, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, invited Iran’s President, Ebrahim Raisi, for a visit to the Saudi capital. The invitation, as vouched by some Iranian officials, was welcomed by Iran with its intent to extend further cooperation. Both countries besides the revival of their diplomatic ties also agreed to revive their earlier agreement about security cooperation, trade and investments as signed in 1998.
Saudi Arabia severed its diplomatic relations with Iran in 2016 as its embassy in Tehran was stormed by protestors riled by the execution of Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia leader in Saudi Arabia. Yet both sides seem to have been quite prepared for a reproachment for quite some time as Iran despite being the 18th largest global economy was quite anxious to ease its regional constraints for broader outreach, economic potential, and development. The dialogues for some deals are also said to have been previously initiated in Iraq and Oman. The Chinese President, keen to enhance its influence in the Mideast, manifested his interest to help an agreement during his visit to Saudi Arabia on December 22 while last month, the President of Iran’s visit to China, is thought to have furnished some further flesh to it.
Coming to the prime critical aspect of the long-term prospects of this deal to sustain and serve its purpose, to diffuse the divisive and devastating conflicts of the region, most regional and global observers as well as some negotiators privy to the proceedings of the agreement, seem to be quite optimistic. Even the way the course of the inception of this agreement had meandered through various capitals before its culmination, indicates a genuine urge for peace between the parties. Its implications for Lebanon, Libya, Palestine and some other Muslim lands similarly may also be quite significant. Lack of stability and failure to form a government in Lebanon even about four years after its Parliamentary elections have caused a cruel meltdown, drowning its currency to about a tenth of its normal worth. This year began even without a Presidential election. Libya likewise, has been also ruined by two contending governments worsened by some Jihadi and tribal belts.
The agreement may also usher a new spell in Palestine by softening Israel and the Hezbollah standoffs and may even inspire a new mindset in the subcontinent.