Saudi, Iran agree to Restore Diplomatic Ties | 11 Mar 2023

For Prelims: Houthi rebels in Yemen, Geographic Location of Middle Eastern Countries, West Asia.

For Mains: Role of India in Saudi-Iran Relations, Effect of Policies & Politics of Countries on India's Interests.

Why in News?

Recently, Saudi and Iranian officials held bilateral talks that concluded with an agreement to restore diplomatic ties which have been severed since 2016. The major diplomatic breakthrough negotiated by China in Beijing.

What are the Key Outcomes of the Talks?

  • The two countries plan to reopen their respective embassies in Tehran and Riyadh.
  • They also vowed to respect countries’ sovereignty and not interfere in internal affairs.
  • They also agreed to activate a 2001 security cooperation agreement, as well as a general economy, trade and investment agreement signed in 1998.

What is the Conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

  • Religious Factor:
    • Saudi Arabia broke off ties with Iran in 2016 after protesters invaded Saudi diplomatic posts after Saudi Arabia had executed a prominent Shiite cleric days earlier.
    • Saudi Arabia has long portrayed itself as the world’s leading Sunni nation while Iran views itself as the protector of the Islam’s Shiite minority.
  • Attacks on Saudi Arabia:
    • Since US’s withdrawal from Iran’s Nuclear deal, Iran was blamed for a series of attacks including one targeting the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in 2019.
      • Western nations and experts have blamed the attack on Iran though the latter has denied launching the attack.
  • Regional Cold War: Saudi Arabia and Iran - two powerful neighbours - are locked in a fierce struggle for regional dominance.
    • Uprisings across the Arab world (after the Arab Spring in 2011) caused political instability throughout the region.
    • Iran and Saudi Arabia exploited these upheavals to expand their influence, notably in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, further heightening mutual suspicions.
    • Moreover, external powers like the US and Israel have a major role in exacerbating conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
  • Proxy Wars: Iran and Saudi Arabia are not directly fighting but they are engaged in a variety of proxy wars (conflicts where they support rival sides and militias) around the region.
    • For Example, Houthi rebels in Yemen. These groups can acquire greater capabilities which can cause further instability in the region. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supporting them.
  • Leader of Islamic World: Historically, Saudi Arabia, a monarchy and home to the birthplace of Islam, saw itself as the leader of the Muslim world.
    • However, this was challenged in 1979 by the Islamic revolution in Iran which created a new type of state in the region - a kind of revolutionary theocracy - that had an explicit goal of exporting this model beyond its own borders.

What can be the Global Implications?

  • The deal may have implications for a US-led effort to isolate Iran economically through sanctions as the deal may facilitate possible Saudi investment inside Iran.
  • In Yemen, the Saudis have been backing the internationally recognised government in an eight-year civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels but have been looking for a way to end the war by conducting private talks in Oman with the Houthis.
    • Saudi Arabia will hope that Iran will halt Houthi drone and missile strikes on the kingdom, and that Iran will help with Saudi talks with the Houthis.
  • The deal will cause concern among many Israeli politicians who have sought global isolation for its arch-enemy Iran. Israel described the pact as a “serious and dangerous” development.

What can be the Implications for India?

  • Energy Security:
    • Iran and Saudi Arabia are two major oil producers in the world, and any conflict between them can lead to oil price spikes that can have a significant impact on India's energy security.
    • Normalizing ties between these two countries could help stabilize global oil prices and ensure a consistent supply of oil to India.
  • Trade:
    • Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are important trading partners for India. Normalizing ties between them could open up new avenues for trade and investment, leading to increased economic opportunities for India.
  • Regional Stability:
    • India has strong economic and strategic interests in the Middle East including International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
    • Iran is part of India’s extended neighbourhood. Any instability in the region can have far-reaching consequences for India. Normalizing ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia could contribute to greater stability in the region, reducing the risk of conflict and terrorism.
  • Geopolitics:
    • India maintains cordial relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia and plays a role in maintaining peace and stability in the region. Normalizing ties between these two countries could help India in its efforts to promote peace and security in the region.
    • However, Chinese mediation between Iran and Saudi will create challenges for India as it will contribute to increasing Chinese influence in the region.

Way Forward

  • India can play a constructive role in promoting dialogue and cooperation between these two countries, which can help in achieving regional stability.
  • India needs to be vigilant about the increasing Chinese influence in the region and work towards securing its strategic interests in the Middle East.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs):

Q.1 Which one of the following countries of South-West Asia does not open out to the Mediterranean Sea? (2015)

(a) Syria
(b) Jordan
(c) Lebanon
(d) Israel

Ans: (b)

Q.2 Which of the following is not a member of ‘Gulf Cooperation Council’? (2016)

(a) Iran
(b) Saudi Arabia
(c) Oman
(d) Kuwait

Ans: (a)

Q.3 What is the importance of developing Chabahar Port by India? (2017)

(a) India’s trade with African countries will enormously increase.
(b) India’s relations with oil-producing Arab countries will be strengthened.
(c) India will not depend on Pakistan for access to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
(d) Pakistan will facilitate and protect the installation of a gas pipeline between Iraq and India.

Ans: (c)