Saudi-Iranian rapprochement was unthinkable under Trump

Despite his promises to put “America first”, Donald Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East has prioritized the interests of regimes like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel – nations ready to take advantage of their close ties with the elites in Washington, DC, to get what they want. And they got what they wanted: a blank check for a foreign policy based on aggression.

Trump’s gift of a free hand to America’s foreign partners helped, among other things, accelerate Israeli colonization of the West Bank and Jerusalem; a Turkish-backed war between Azerbaijan and Armenia; and an escalation of the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians. Little feeling the need for compromise, the regimes on good terms with Trump made the most of their advantages.

Little felt the need for compromise, the regimes on good terms with Trump made the most of their advantages.

With Trump now gone and the United States withdrawing from the region, there are signs that things could improve. More importantly, a positive change may be on the horizon in the one conflict that has caused so much misfortune in the region: the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The secret talks that began in earnest between Saudi and Iranian intelligence officials last year have reportedly gained momentum in recent weeks. A fourth round of talks between rival powers since 2020 is said to have taken place between Saudi and Iranian officials in Baghdad, Iraq, in late September.

Reports are now emerging that the two sides are on the verge of restoring consular relations and are working on a negotiated end of the war in Yemen, where Iran and Saudi Arabia support opposing camps. As a sign of hope, officials are increasingly discussing their progress in public.

After the first reports of talks in Baghdad leaked this spring, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said maintenance on Saudi state television where he made an unusually conciliatory note towards Iran. “Iran is a neighboring country and all we aspire to is a good and special relationship with Iran,” the crown prince said in the April interview. “We don’t want the situation in Iran to be difficult. On the contrary, we want Iran to grow … and push the region and the world towards prosperity. “

Iranian officials recently echoed the conciliatory statement. “The Iran-Saudi Arabia dialogue is on the right track,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said at a press conference last week from the Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, adding that a more in-depth dialogue was still necessary. “Both sides will announce these agreements in due course. We welcome the continuation of the talks and the results that benefit both sides and the region. “

Such statements would have been unheard of in the previous four years, when the two countries seemed perpetually on the brink of open conflict.

The Trump administration was extremely close to Saudi Arabia while being endlessly hostile to Iran. The Saudi government had close ties to Trump and his family, often making their relationship a spectacle and orchestrating large-scale arms purchases and other economic transactions that bolstered Trump’s political capital in his country.

With Iran, the opposite was true. Instead of continuing the diplomatic path with Iran laid out by his predecessor, Trump – to the delight of the Israeli government and with the quiet support of the Arab Gulf regimes who would be at the forefront of any Iranian retaliation – canceled the Iran nuclear deal of 2015 and imposed the most severe sanctions ever imposed on the country.

Contrary to Trump’s claims to be an anti-war president, the United States and Iran came closest to war in their history in January 2020 when the White House ordered the assassination of the Iranian major general Qassim Suleimani, who, according to a claim by then-prime minister Iraq, had been on a mission to deliver a diplomatic message to the Saudis. The Iranians retaliated by firing ballistic missiles at a US military base in Iraq, apparently approaching facilities where US military personnel were present.

The potential of a Saudi-Iranian breakthrough shows how the US blank check has held back progress in the region. As the Iranians and Saudis continued periodic secret talks under Trump, the pace only picked up with the election of Joe Biden and the clear estrangement from the region he initiated.

“Offering a blank check fueled destabilizing behavior on the part of the American partners. “

Trita Parsi, co-founder and executive vice-president of the Washington-based think tank, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, criticized the blank check the United States gave to its allies in the Middle East, calling it a force that dissuaded the parties from carrying the necessary diplomacy to resolve their problems. The US withdrawal from the region, now accelerated by Biden, also coincided with new peace talks between rival powers in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

In other words, the growing absence of the United States from the Middle East as a military hegemony opens up the possibility for a lasting order to emerge that countries negotiate on their own.

“It is not to stay that the withdrawal of the United States from the region will solve all its problems, but the idea that if we leave the chaos will automatically follow, and that the American presence is the only thing to defend the civilization, is not true, ”Parsi said. . “Offering a blank check fueled destabilizing behavior on the part of the American partners. The evidence is pretty clear, not that everything will be wonderful once the United States pulls out, but that the countries in the region have an agency and will try to resolve their issues diplomatically, without immediately taking military action. “

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