With U.S. Sidelined, China Brokers Iran-Saudi Arabia Deal

“[The deal] demonstrates that U.S.’s influence and credibility… has diminished,” said a former State Department policy adviser.

Restoring relations: Iran and Saudi Arabia broke years of hostility on Friday in a new deal. Brokered by China in a series of talks in Beijing, the deal restores normal relations between the two countries for the first time since 2016, when Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran. According to recent statements, both countries will reopen their embassies and resume diplomatic relations.

Historic divide: Iran and Saudi Arabia’s divide has always had a religious edge, with Saudi Arabia historically following the Sunni sect of Islam and Iran the Shia sect. Despite this religious breakdown, the hostility has often manifested politically, most notably with Iran supporting the Assad regime in Syria while the Saudis backed anti-Assad rebel forces in the region. Bashar al-Assad’s government praised the deal; the resulting stability from the agreement could bolster the regime’s stability amid the brutal Syrian civil war.

A new peacemaker: Western analysts have voiced concerns over China’s growing role as a deal-maker on the world stage. While Beijing monitored the Iran-Saudi Arabia deal, the United States was not directly involved, prompting some to question whether America is losing its peacemaking role. In the case of the Middle East, China’s ability to reach across cultural tensions has demonstrated a serious ability to negotiate historic conflicts without the seeming baggage of U.S. involvement.

“[The deal] demonstrates that U.S.’s influence and credibility in that region has diminished,” said former State Department policy adviser Aaron Miller. “There is a new sort of international regional alignment taking place.”

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