“We are seeking to have good relations with Iran,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Saudi television this week. “We are working with our partners in the region to overcome our differences with Iran.” Only four years ago, the notorious royal sang a different tune, claiming dialogue with Iran was impossible. “How do you have a dialogue with a regime built on an extremist ideology?” he said, pledging that Saudi Arabia would take the battle to Iranian territory.
What changed to make this 180-degree shift possible?
One factor looms larger than all others: increasing signs that the United States is serious about shifting its focus away from the Middle East. It’s not so much anything Washington has done but rather what Washington has stopped doing—namely, reassuring its security partners in the region that it will continue to support them unconditionally, no matter what reckless conduct they engage in. Washington’s turn away from entangling itself in the quarrels and stratagems of its Middle Eastern partners has compelled the region’s powers to explore their own diplomacy. Contrary to the doomsday predictions of Washington’s foreign-policy establishment, chaos has not been unleashed by the United States’ pending military withdrawals from the region. Instead, regional diplomacy has broken out.
Suddenly, regional diplomacy has become the preferred option for Washington’s security partners in the Middle East.
Mohammed bin Salman’s soothing comments were most likely a reference to secret talks between Iran and its Arab neighbors in Iraq, first reported by the Financial Times, that were aimed at reducing tensions and putting an end to the war in Yemen. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who has a clear interest in resolving Saudi-Iranian tensions, as their enmity and proxy fighting all across the region risk further destabilizing Iraq, has been facilitating the Arab-Iranian discussions.
Read the full article in Foreign Policy.