March 10, 2023 | Flash Brief

Saudi Arabia, Iran Agree to Reestablish Diplomatic Ties

March 10, 2023 | Flash Brief

Saudi Arabia, Iran Agree to Reestablish Diplomatic Ties

Latest Developments

Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore diplomatic relations on Friday and reopen their respective embassies within two months in a deal brokered by China. Tehran and Riyadh severed diplomatic relations in 2016, when the kingdom cut ties after protestors invaded Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran. The deal comes despite ongoing threats of Iranian missile, drone, and terror proxy attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.

According to Iranian media, the agreement emerged after a weeklong meeting in Beijing between Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Saudi national security adviser Musaad bin Mohammed al-Aiban, and Wang Yi, China’s most senior diplomat.

Expert Analysis

“Renewed Iran-Saudi ties as a result of Chinese mediation is a lose, lose, lose for American interests. It demonstrates that the Saudis don’t trust Washington to have their back, that Iran sees an opportunity to peel away American allies to end its international isolation, and it establishes China as the majordomo of Middle Eastern power politics.” Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO

“This is the ultimate hedge for Riyadh as a direct result of U.S. policy. Hedge against a lifting of sanctions and a return to a nuclear deal. Hedge against a U.S. pullback from the region by entering a new China-brokered Middle East architecture.” Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

A Less Committed U.S.

The agreement comes as Gulf Arab states perceive the United States to be withdrawing slowly from the Middle East, leaving a power vacuum to be filled by China — a major customer of oil and petroleum products from Gulf Cooperation Council states and Iran.

The Biden administration’s policy in the Middle East has been led by its attempts to reenter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran and pausing the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions policies. In 2021, the State Department removed the terrorist organization designation from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and pressured Riyadh to end the war in Yemen.

China Works With Both Sides

In February, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and a large delegation visited Beijing, where they signed 20 cooperation agreements on trade, agriculture, and renewable energy. They also jointly called for the lifting of sanctions on Iran. This meeting followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia in December.

U.S. Still Has an Opening

Hours before announcing its agreement with Iran, Saudi Arabia revealed its terms for normalization with Israel. The proposal asks for security guarantees from the United States, assistance in developing a civilian nuclear program, and fewer restrictions on U.S. arms sales.

With its offer to the United States, Riyadh appears to be leaving the door open for a stronger U.S.-Saudi relationship but is making clear by pursuing a hedge with China that they will not be waiting around.

Related Analysis

Biden’s diplomacy without deadlines erodes US-Gulf alliance,” by Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Biden’s Persian Gulf policy benefits China,” by Saeed Ghasseminejad

Is the Future of the Persian Gulf Chinese?” by Saeed Ghasseminejad


China Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Iran Politics and Economy Israel