China’s Prestigious Middle East Deal May Soon See Challenges

by Bernhard, published on Moon of Alabama,  March 13, 2023

What I like about this article is that it’s thesis is that a will to peace can create peace.  The mediator need not be an enforcer if the achieved agreement is based on the legitimate interests of the negotiating parties.  The role of the mediator is primarily to reveal these interests through engagement.   [jb]

The big deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which China mediated, may soon lead to new trouble.

The deal included security clauses:

[C]onfidential clauses were inserted into the Beijing Agreement to assure Iran and Saudi Arabia that their security imperatives would be met. Some of these details were provided to The Cradle, courtesy of a source involved in the negotiations:

  • Both Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran undertake not to engage in any activity that destabilizes either state, at the security, military or media levels.
  • Saudi Arabia pledges not to fund media outlets that seek to destabilize Iran, such as Iran International.
  • Saudi Arabia pledges not to fund organizations designated as terrorists by Iran, such as the People’s Mojahedin Organization (MEK), Kurdish groups based in Iraq, or militants operating out of Pakistan.
  • Iran pledges to ensure that its allied organizations do not violate Saudi territory from inside Iraqi territory. During negotiations, there were discussions about the targeting of Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia in September 2019, and Iran’s guarantee that an allied organization would not carry out a similar strike from Iraqi lands.
  • Saudi Arabia and Iran will seek to exert all possible efforts to resolve conflicts in the region, particularly the conflict in Yemen, in order to secure a political solution that secures lasting peace in that country.

According to sources involved in the Beijing negotiations, no details on Yemen’s conflict were agreed upon as there has already been significant progress achieved in direct talks between Riyadh and Yemen’s Ansarallah resistance movement in January. These have led to major understandings between the two warring states, which the US and UAE have furiously sought to undermine in order to prevent a resolution of the Yemen war.

In Beijing however, the Iranian and Saudis agreed to help advance the decisions already reached between Riyadh and Sanaa, and build upon these to end the seven-year war.

The Saudi pledges are significant for Iran. Since last October there had been on and off protests and riots combined with terrorist attacks by Sunni militants in Baloch region in southeast Iran and terrorist attacks in northwest Iran by Sunni Kurdish militants which had crossed over from north Iraq.

The protests were fueled by Iran International, a Saudi funded channel in London. That channel is now moving to Washington DC where it seems to have found new funding. Saudi Arabia was also financing the Kurdish and Baloch rebels. They have now stopped their attack in Iran. Today Iran announced an amnesty for some 22,000 people who had been arrested during the riots:

[Iran’s judiciary head Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi] said a total of 82,656 prisoners and those facing charges had been pardoned. Of those, some 22,628 had been arrested amid the demonstrations, he said. Those pardoned had not committed theft or violent crimes, he added.

The Iranian pledges have likewise solved Saudi Arabia security problems. There will be no more attacks on its oil infrastructure.

An additional item in the Cradle report is also significant:

On a slightly separate note related to regional security — but not part of the Beijing Agreement — sources involved in negotiations confirmed to The Cradle that, during talks, the Saudi delegation stressed Riyadh’s commitment to the 2002 Arab peace initiative; refusing normalization with Tel Aviv before the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital.

This is of course bad for Israel which had hoped to drag Saudi Arabia onto its site to then attack Iran. That has for now become impossible. The China mediated deal is also a red flag for Washington:

[T]he agreement undercuts the posture of the U.S. in the region. The U.S. has downsized in Syria after withdrawing forces in 2021 from Afghanistan.The deal also comes as Saudi Arabia is demanding certain security guarantees, a steady flow of arms shipments and assistance with its civilian nuclear program in order to normalize relations with Israel, a major U.S. ally, the White House confirmed on Friday.

Speaking to reporters, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. was “informed” about the Saudi Arabia-Iran talks but played no role in them.

One wonders if the recent anti-Chinese campaign was launched because the U.S. knew of the deal and tried to interrupt it.

The deal may well have implementation issues:

China’s role in the Saudi-Iranian deal is momentous. However, Beijing may find that its relations in the region are undermined by failures in its implementation.

As the broker of the deal, or at least the third-party country listed in the statement, the key question is whether China will — or even can — realistically underwrite or support the translation of the agreement into practice. The first issue is one of capabilities. Unlike Washington, China’s power projection capabilities are highly limited. With its sole foreign military base in Djibouti, and no substantial security architecture in the region, Beijing would be unable to enforce the deal with the use — or threat — of force.

While this very absence of military might may be a source of soft power for China in the eyes of regional states, given that it signals a genuine desire to avoid interfering in other states’ affairs, Beijing cannot protect key assets in the region or respond to transgressions. Beijing is still reliant on Washington in this regard.

Who’s are the ‘key assets’ in the region? Are they not owned by the countries they are in? If Iran and the Saudis hold onto the agreement there is no need for the U.S. to be there. Beijing is certainly not relying on anything Washington could do there.

The second, and far more pressing, issue is one of willingness. China’s role in brokering the deal is unlikely to see it raise its head above the parapet if violence or tensions erupt. Beijing has expended decades of diplomatic effort to cultivate good relations with all regional states. We are simply unlikely to see China risk blowing it all by siding with one partner at the expense of the other.

The author seems to believe that China should take sides. If the agreement holds there will be no need to do that. If it doesn’t hold China will mediate again until peace returns.

Fundamentally, this deal comes down to the two regional states (and indeed the other GCC states). If they play ball, China can claim a monumental victory in Middle Eastern diplomacy. If, as is more likely, tensions surface, Beijing will find that it has overstretched. It will almost certainly be unable and unwilling to act as a guarantor of the deal. For a quick diplomatic win, China has placed its policy of neutrality in jeopardy. The current question from China’s perspective is whether it will retain the respect of all parties if the agreement fails.

The real implementation problems the deal and China will face are not the ones the author quoted above mentions.

The U.S. does not like the deal because it diminishes its role in the region. Israel does not like the deal because it lessens its chances to go  after Iran:

The U.S. and Israel don’t look kindly on the news of the diplomatic breakthrough. They first fear that China is increasingly assertive in its role in the region, and the U.S. does not want to experience what Britain experienced in Suez in 1956: a watershed moment signaling its global decline. The U.S. stood up to Britain, France and Israel who combined to attack Egypt after its leader Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. The event is seen as the final act of the British Empire before joining the more powerful U.S. imperium.

If the agreement does accomplish the goal of truly bringing peace and amity between the two rivals, China may then enjoy a Suez moment: when the world signals the end of the American Empire like what happened to the British.

Both, Israel and the U.S, are capable and likely willing to do whatever is necessary to prevent an implementation of the deal. They can probable use their good relations with the United Arab Emirates to make things difficult. False flag attacks in Iran and in Saudi Arabia could be a way to do that. If a new ‘Iranian’ drone attack happens in Saudi oil fields or new ‘Saudi financed’ terrorist attack in Iran happen the deal could indeed be scraped.

One hopes that China and the other parties involved in the deal are conscious of that.

*Featured Image: A man in Tehran holds a local newspaper reporting on its front page the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023. © Provided by CNBC

Share the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve : *
19 + 5 =