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Sunday 10 November 2019

Saudi Iran rivalry is easing, thanks to mediators

Hayat Bangash. 

The Saudi Iran rivalry is a political and economic struggle wherein sectarian differences have been exploited by both countries for geopolitical gains as part of a larger conflict. Most of the population of Iran is from Shia sect of Islam while Saudi Arabia, being the cradle of Islam and the land of holiest places for Muslim pilgrimages to perform their religeous obligation, sees itself as the leader of Sunni Muslims.

Saudi-Iran relations are seen at a new crossroad. Recent initiatives by the rulers on both sides show some willingness towards normalisation of a prolonged tension between the two arch rivals. Meanwhile, third countries with sizeable populations of both sects have also been engaged in cooling off the tensions. Notable efforts have been those by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan who visited Saudi Arabia in September this year on his way to New York and informed at UN General Assembly (UNGA) session that he was engaged in mediation between the two Muslim nations.

These efforts, as Mr Khan revealed, had a nod from US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Ever since his attempt, Saudi Arabia and Iran, encouragingly, haven’t engaged in any major diplomatic altercation.

Iran has not had formal relations with Saudi Arabia and its longtime ally Bahrain since they cut diplomatic relations in 2016 after Saudi embassy in Iran was torched by protesters. Tehran has, of late, repeatedly indicated willingness to resume talks as Washington has been blaming it over unrest at several places in the Gulf. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani even sent letters to leaders of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in a major patching up move. This came at a time when his top general claimed significant weakening of US dominance in the Middle East.

The latest mediation took place through Kuwait. Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) revealed, quoting the Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled al-Jarallah, that the country had conveyed special messages from Iran to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Meanwhile, the Qatari foreign ministry spokeswoman Lolwah R M Al-Khater told Al-Monitor that Doha believes that Iran is willing to start constructive negotiations and her country is prepared to launch such talks to lower tensions in the region. This development shows that other Muslim states are also interested in seeing better relations between the two main players of the Middle East region.

With renewed rapprochement developments in the Saudi Iran rivalry, other states in the Persian Gulf too are upbeat on stability returning to the region. As the world moves to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, these oil rich nations are looking for new avenues for sustaining their economies. These efforts call for settling differences and charting joint strategies for the welfare of their people. Unnecessary spending on defence and related hardware is going to do nothing but bog down their economies.

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