POST TIME: 13 May, 2021 04:30:55 PM
Why does Saudi Arabia demand relations with Iran?
During the election campaign, Biden promised to renegotiate the agreement with Iran if he won. Despite strong Israeli objections, Biden continues to work on how to renew the agreement.
Md. Tareq Hasan

Why does Saudi Arabia demand relations with Iran?

Iran and Saudi Arabia are generally seen as rivals in the Middle East. In recent years, the relationship between the two countries can be referred to as the pumpkin relationship. Recently, a dialogue was held between the top officials of the two countries. In the last few years it can easily be considered as a historical event. Afterwards, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he wanted good relations with the country. It cannot be said now that all the ice will melt because of a meeting. Rather, there are a number of other issues between the two countries that may not come to fruition without a solution. It is difficult to estimate the extent to which the Iran-Saudi meeting is going to have an impact in the Middle East.

Direct dialogue between Iranian and Saudi officials has created a possibility for resolving Middle East tensions. The whole Middle East has been in turmoil for the past few years due to constant threats, attacks, counter-attacks and proxy wars. As a result, financial activities have slowed down. As compensation, fuel oil prices have plummeted.

The meeting, held between top officials of the two countries, was held in Iraq on the 9th of last month. Protests erupted across Iran in 2016 after the execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimar al-Nimar in Riyadh. After this incident, the relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran were severed. In 2016, almost five years after the incident, officials from the two countries took part in such a meeting for the first time. Tehran is waiting to start a dialogue with not only Saudi Arabia but also the United States on its nuclear programme. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, wants to get out of the ongoing bloody war in Yemen.

So far no official information has been released about the meeting from either the Iranian or Saudi Arabian governments. The news of the meeting was first published by the Financial Times. As far as indications are concerned, the meeting was attended by Saudi Arabia's top intelligence official, Khalid bin Ali Al Humaidan, as well as the country's intelligence chief. He will also meet with the Iranian envoy again, the report said. Iraqi Prime Minister Mostafa al-Qadimi paid a state visit to Saudi Arabia last month. He has an important role to play in the dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The Yemen conflict was the main topic of discussion in the dialogue between the top administrative officials of the two countries. Saudi Arabia is devastated by years of war in Yemen. The UN assessment also found the country to have suffered the biggest human rights catastrophe in its history. Countless children are dying of malnutrition there. Iran has been providing support and patronage to Yemen's Houthi rebels. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is supporting the ruling government of Yemen.

After many years of fighting, there are no signs of defeat for the Houthis. The Houthis control much of Yemen. The Houthi rebels are far ahead of the Saudi-backed administration. The activities of the Houthis are not limited to Yemen. Over the past few years, Huthi rebels have carried out regular attacks on Saudi oil fields. The Houthi attack in September 2019 was the deadliest as the Saudi Arabia's oil supply was cut in half after the attack.

Failure to succeed against the Houthis is not the only concern for Saudi Arabia. Newly elected US President Joe Biden's views have caused a new crisis for Saudi Arabia. Joe Biden has been a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia's internal human rights situation. Although President Trump is convinced of the way Saudi Arabia has used lethal weapons in the war in Yemen, Biden has repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction with the issue. One of the major weaknesses of Saudi Arabia's attacks in the war in Yemen is that they are carried out to quell the insurgency, but civilian casualties are high. More than 100,000 people have been killed since Saudi Arabia began fighting in Yemen in 2015.

Huthi attacks, on the other hand, are getting out of control. Even if the war continues like this for a few more years, there is no chance of Saudi Arabia winning. The Saudi leadership is realizing that the Biden administration does not like this view of unnecessarily dragging out the Yemen war. They want to see an immediate end to the war in Yemen. Despite pressure from all sides, Saudi Arabia has not been able to rush out of the war. They want to see solutions to some issues, as part of which they want to bring Huthi and Iran to the negotiating table.

There are other reasons behind the talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The 2015 Nuclear Agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The agreement was signed in 2015 between Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union. After this agreement, Iran was released from the blockade. And Iran agreed on the condition that they pull the strings of their nuclear activities. Even if Trump pulls out of the deal, Biden will return to it. The same can be said about Saudi-Iran relations.

During the election campaign, Biden promised to renegotiate the agreement with Iran if he won. Despite strong Israeli objections, Biden continues to work on how to renew the agreement. As part of this, US and Iranian officials met in an informal meeting in the Austrian capital, Vienna, last month. During the meeting, officials from the two countries discussed a number of proposals for resuming the nuclear deal.

On the other hand, when President Trump imposed sanctions on Iran due to the deteriorating relations with Iran since 2015, Saudi Arabia also indirectly supported Trump's decision. But this time around, Saudi Arabia has changed its strategy as it seeks to negotiate with Iran over Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are trying to implement the agreement with Iran on a larger scale. They called on US policymakers not to compromise on nuclear issues alone. Initiatives are also being taken to bring Tehran's ballistic missile project under control.

Although there has been a lot of talk about Iran's nuclear programme, virtually Iran's ballistic missile programme has remained out of the reach of all neighbouring countries. That's why the United States wants to come up with some strategy for this year's deal so that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states can be comfortable with Iran's nuclear programme.

The United States has indirectly put some pressure on Iran. The US policymakers have already told Iran that talks on a nuclear deal will not be possible if Iran continues to intervene in neighboring countries, including Yemen. In fact, many believe that Iran will call on the Houthis in Yemen to end the war in its national interest. But it remains to be seen how much work will be done.

Many Middle East analysts believe that the Houthis may not be in full control of Iran or will comply with Iran's orders as soon as they receive them. Moreover, various factions have been formed among the Houthis in the last few years. The Houthis are now in many ways self-sufficient and self-reliant. It is possible that even if Iran withdraws 100 percent from Yemen, the Houthis will continue their anti-Saudi war as before. Even then, Saudi Arabia wants to establish a good relationship with Iran, keeping in mind its own strengths and strategic situation, in order to normalize relations between the two countries and implement a radical change in the Middle East.

The writer is a postgraduate student, University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh