January 24, 2015 | Policy Brief

Succession in Saudi; Tehran Triangulates

Following the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz on Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and former president, Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani quickly offered their condolences. Only weeks before the monarch’s death, however, the headline of the hardline Vatan-e Emrooz had used a derisive colloquialism to cheer on the Saudi monarch’s demise.

Salman, the new king appointed within hours of his elder brother’s death, is now pledging to “continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment.” This would seem to imply, among other things, that relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran will remain confrontational.

Nevertheless, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif is slated to leave Davos, Switzerland, where he participated in the World Economic Forum, and head to the Kingdom for the royal’s funeral. Zarif’s appearance, while no doubt in line with Foreign Ministry protocol, will be made all the more awkward given the recent decision to push-back a visit to Saudi Arabia over disagreements on oil pricing.

Oil has been at the heart of the recent uptick in Saudi-Iranian animosity. Ayatollah Ghorban-Ali Dorri-Najafabadi, a former Intelligence Minister and current Representative of the supreme leader to Markazi province, noted in December that Saudi Arabia has a “large role in the conspiracy of the Global Arrogance [America], and with dirty intentions does anything to remove the Islamic Republic of Iran from the arena of selling oil.”

Kayhan, the hardline Tehran newspaper who’s editor-in-chief is a close confidant of Iran’s supreme leader, has similarly run numerous articles referring to “the oil conspiracy of [Saudi] Arabia and America” and “the Riyadh-Washington oil war.”

At present, Salman has given no indication that he will order a decrease in the production of Saudi crude. This means that Iran’s primary export will continue to drop in value. The Islamic Republic will therefore continue to castigate the Saudis over everything from oil pricing and production to hegemony in the Persian Gulf. Once again, regional petro-politics have proven to outlive personalities. 

  Behnam Ben Taleblu is an Iran Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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