On 10 March, prodded by China, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations within two months, after seven years of severed ties. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts Dina Esfandiary and Anna Jacobs look at the emerging rapprochement.
Riyadh hosted meeting between U.S. and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), while media spat pointed to tensions with Egypt.
U.S. and GCC held meeting on counter-terrorism and security cooperation. U.S.-GCC working group 13-16 Feb held meeting in capital Riyadh that had been postponed in Oct 2022 following U.S.-Saudi tensions over oil production. Joint statement following meeting focused on threats of Islamic State (ISIS), Iran and Iran-aligned groups, while reaffirming “that diplomacy remains the preferred way to address Iran’s destabilizing policies.” Earlier, FM Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud 2 Feb visited Iraq and discussed Gulf-Iraq electricity connectivity, oil policy and regional security dialogue (see Iraq). FM Al-Saud 18 Feb reaffirmed need for new approach to Syria and dialogue with Syrian President Assad for humanitarian reasons, following deadly earthquake (see Syria).
Saudi-Egyptian media spat broke out. Saudi and Egyptian media pundits engaged in tit-for-tat verbal criticisms over deterioration of Egypt’s economy and Saudi Arabia’s decision to apply stricter conditions on lending money (see Egypt); Egyptian President al-Sisi 9 Feb denied conflict with Saudi Arabia. Spats surfaced after Saudi Arabia’s finance minister in Jan described kingdom’s new approach to providing aid to allies, moving from “direct grants and deposits without strings attached” to “working with multilateral institutions to actually say we need to see reforms”; another source of tension relates to delayed transfer of Sanafir and Tiran islands in Red Sea from Egyptian to Saudi control per 2016 deal.
We can see a de-escalation in the regional layer of the [Saudi-Iranian] conflict. It is a multi-layered conflict, with domestic and regional causes, not just a proxy war
The US-Saudi relationship has gone through periods of intense strain before, but in my view the current low point represents a crack but not a rupture.
The fact that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are becoming more willing to engage the Iranians will bring them closer to the other countries in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council...
[Saudi Arabia can] reassert its role, particularly in the charity aid sector, which it always has been traditionally proud of [...] I think we can see [Saudi Arabia] expa...
Implementing a cease-fire [between Saudi Arabia and Yemen] is no small matter, and the first test of this is going to be whether the parties show up for this virtual meet...
Riyadh may not want war with Iran, but there are risks to this strategy of rhetorical confrontation.
On 14 September, strikes of uncertain provenance hit Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facilities, taking some 50 per cent of the kingdom’s oil production temporarily offline. Crisis Group offers a 360-degree view of the attacks and their implications for Middle Eastern and international peace and security.
A series of escalations in both word and deed have raised fears of U.S.-Iranian military confrontation, either direct or by proxy. It is urgent that cooler heads prevail – in European capitals as in Tehran and Washington – to head off the threat of a disastrous war.
Saudi Arabia has been forging links to Iraq since reopening its Baghdad embassy in 2016. Its adversary Iran has strong Iraqi ties. If Riyadh avoids antagonising Tehran, invests wisely and quiets anti-Shiite rhetoric, Iraq can be a bridge between the rival powers - not a battleground.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are actively fighting one another in the media, through armed proxies, in cyberspace and with Western lobbyists. But in Iraq they should both see the case for détente.
After the defeat of the Islamic State in 2017, normality is returning to Iraq ahead of the 12 May parliamentary elections. In this Q&A, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for the Arabian Peninsula Elizabeth Dickinson says the country’s cautious optimism includes hopes of a new partnership with Riyadh, balancing Baghdad’s strong ties with Tehran.
Doha has become a casualty of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ fights with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. But don’t expect a war.
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