Regional rivals Iran, Saudi Arabia looking to break ice, why now?

Untold India October 20, 2021

TEHRAN/ANKARA: Diplomatic efforts to break the ice between longtime regional rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have intensified in recent months, with officials of both sides citing progress in talks brokered by Iraq. Four rounds of talks have been held in Baghdad since April to ease tensions that first sparked in January 2016 following attacks on two Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad triggered by the execution of a prominent Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia. There is already a buzz about the two sides agreeing to reopen consulates as a first step toward restoring diplomatic ties, even though many contentious issues remain unresolved, most notably Yemen. Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, acknowledged last week during his visit to Lebanon that talks with Saudi Arabia have “gone a good distance”, hoping to see end of tensions in the region. The Saudi foreign minister also said his country is serious about talks with Iran, a development seen as a signal to repair relations between the two rivals. “We are serious about the talks. For us, it’s not that big a shift. We’ve always said we want to find a way to stabilize the region,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan said in an interview with British newspaper The Financial Times published on Friday. Change in US approach Javad Heirannia, a Tehran-based foreign affairs analyst, says the Tehran-Riyadh talks must be seen in the context of “change in the US approach” toward the Persian Gulf region. “Iran-Saudi dialogue is important to reduce the cost of the US withdrawal from the region amid Washington’s increased focus on China and Russia,” he told Anadolu Agency. “On the other hand, when the US withdraws its military, countries in the region are forced to revive the diplomacy,” he added. Interestingly, the talks between Tehran and Riyadh come amidst stalemate over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and heightened tensions between Iran and Israel over recent attacks on Iranian nuclear sites. Ali Bakir, a professor of international relations at Qatar University, said regional and international developments drove the two rivals to launch these talks. “I think the talks between the two countries have surfaced due to some regional and international developments that make it necessary for them to calm down, especially on the Gulf front,” he said. However, Bakir thinks that despite the limited breakthrough that has been achieved so far in the talks, “they will remain tactical as there is no strategic reconciliations looming.” That’s belonging to, according to Bakir, many dynamics, mainly “the Iranian role in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, in addition to its support for armed sectarian militias, not to mention Iran’s nuclear and missile program.” Why now? Rasoul Ghaffari, a political commentator based in Tehran, believes Iran’s detente with Saudi Arabia will “increase its leverage” in the upcoming round of Vienna talks and also “dissuade Israel from carrying out destabilizing activities” in the region. But he doesn’t see the likelihood of Saudi government backing Iran’s nuclear program or regional activities anytime soon. “Saudi Arabia’s support to Iran’s nuclear program can be a real game-changer, but that looks very unlikely at this stage even if the diplomatic ties are restored,” he told Anadolu Agency. “At the same time, ending the Yemen quagmire would need serious political will from both sides,” he noted. “As we can see, attacks in Yemen continue even while the two countries are engaged in talks.” Heirannia said Iran wants regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, to “support the nuclear deal” if it is successfully revived, referring to the resumption of indirect talks between Iran and the US in Vienna, most likely in coming days. US-China rivalry Head of Asia Middle East Forum, Mohammad Makram Balawi, opines that the Joe Biden administration seems to have a different strategy when it comes to Chinese-Iranian relations, which “aims at driving a wedge between Iran and China to weaken the Chinese front.” “It would not be a surprise if we see in the next few months a kind of American leniency towards Tehran, which could pave the way to better relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.” He noted that “Saudi Arabia on its part seems to be a bit restless since Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner left the White House, especially as it coincided with [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s loss of power in Israel.” On a larger level, Balawi said, several moves as the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq “made Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, realize that the new American strategy on focusing on the Indo/Asia-Pacific and rapprochement with Iran would ultimately mean lifting the American security umbrella off the Gulf, and leaving them exposed to Iran, especially as Israel is not willing to fi

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Macron focuses on Turkey, forgets about Russia, UAE in Maghreb: French historian

Untold India October 19, 2021

ANKARA: French President Emmanuel Macron has focused so much on his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he has forgotten more serious threats like Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the Maghreb, according to a French historian. In a blog post titled “France’s strange obsession with Turkey in the Maghreb” published in daily Le Monde, Middle East expert Jean-Pierre Filiu commented on the developments in the North African region and how they affected today’s status quo. According to Filiu, Macron, who has a legitimate right to worry about smear campaigns against France, ended up forgetting that the greatest threats to the French influence in the region stemmed from Russia and the UAE. He also argued that Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s visit to Ankara would mark a climax in Turkish-Algerian ties. The incompetence of Macron in the region, the expert said, was a direct result of the erroneous policies he followed in Libya during the first three years of his tenure. Macron’s support for Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar caused the restart of the civil war in 2019 and undermined the UN mediation work in the war-weary country, Filiu opined. Furthermore, France “secretly” sided with Russia, the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia and “Haftar’s offensive resulted in throwing the Tripoli government into the arms of Turkey,” said the historian, adding that Turkey’s intervention reversed the military conditions and dispersed the Russian mercenaries. Russia was by far the leading military partner of Algeria, Filiu asserted, and called it “paradoxical” that the French president condemned the anti-French political system in Algeria without naming Russia. He underlined that Macron’s silence regarding the Algerian-Russian military partnership was disturbing given that he did not hesitate to reprove Malian officials when they want to resort to Russian mercenaries. The 2020 “peace agreement” between Israel and the UAE eradicated France’s reservation towards the UAE, the historian observed, and Macron expressed his closeness, even “partnership” with Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Emirati crown prince who maintains relations with declared enemies of France such as Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader. On the other hand, the French historian argued that Al Nahyan, who was left humiliated by Haftar’s defeat in Libya, sought for revenge by sabotaging democratic experience in Tunisia as incentives from Abu Dhabi and Cairo played a role in president’s act to suspend constitutional process in Tunisia. “Let’s hope that Macron’s lucidity for Algerian regime is not too late when it comes to the goals of the UAE in the region. Otherwise, Franco-Maghreb ties will enter a zone of further turbulence and Turkey, without being the cause of it, would naturally benefit from that,” the author concluded.-AA

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