Saudi Arabia and Iran are trying to repair fences while the United States withdraws

On Monday, Iran revealed that it had a fifth round of negotiations with Saudi Arabia at the end of last week. Negotiations between the two regional heavyweights were “progressive and positive,” according to a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Saudi Arabia has not yet commented on them.

A ministry spokesman said negotiations were underway to send 40,000 Iranian pilgrims to Hajj in the Saudi city of Mecca this year.

While negotiations to date have focused on relatively minor issues such as pilgrimages to holy sites and have been attended by intelligence officials, the potential involvement of foreign ministry officials in future talks could indicate significant progress and a desire to reach some conclusions. the region’s most difficult conflicts.

Frustrated by what they see as the United States’ declining interest in their security issues, the Gulf states have recently begun to take matters into their own hands, reaching out to rivals and enemies to stave off conflicts that could wreak havoc on their economies.

Why the United States may see itself forced back into the Middle East
Oil rigs in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been attacked in recent years by actors believed to be backed by Iran, including Yemen’s Houthi rebels. In both cases, the Gulf states were overwhelmed by the U.S. response, leading to a reconsideration of a long-standing pillar in U.S.-Gulf relations that ensured Arab consideration for U.S. energy needs in return for U.S. security guarantees.

The United States has reiterated its commitment to Gulf security by strengthening regional defenses against missile attacks. On Friday, President Biden elected career diplomat Michael Ratney as America’s next ambassador to Riyadh. If confirmed, he will be the first career diplomat to hold the post in the country in three decades.

The clearest manifestation of this new thinking was the subdued response of the Gulf states to the war in Ukraine. US allies have not wholeheartedly supported the Biden administration’s stance on Russia’s war there, and regional officials have pointed to the conflict as a sign of a changing world order where the West may have less to say than it once did ..
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, and the United Arab Emirates have rejected US calls to increase oil production to lower the price of crude oil, which is fueling Russia’s war, and instead choose to stick to an alliance with co-exporter Russia to increase production gradually. More than 15 months into his presidency, Joe Biden and the de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have not yet spoken to each other.

Meanwhile, both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have repaired fences in the region.

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Over the past two weeks, Saudi Arabia has de-escalated its war in Yemen through a rare ceasefire and begun a rapprochement with Lebanon following an unprecedented breach of ties last year. Both countries are arenas for proxy conflicts between Riyadh and Tehran.
The biggest obstacle to warming ties from an Iranian perspective was the war in Yemen, said Mohammad Marandi, a professor at Tehran University. “Now that it has stopped, at least for the time being, there is real hope for improvement,” he said, adding that Iran was only prepared to discuss issues of a bilateral nature and not “negotiate on behalf of” Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
The resumption of negotiations is also taking place as the negotiations between the world powers and Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal reach an advanced stage. The Gulf Arabs have been frustrated that the United States has not addressed their concerns with Iran in the negotiations, believing that their influence on Tehran pales in comparison to the influence the United States has.

“The Gulf states believe that the United States should be present at the table so that Iran can live up to the promises made to it,” said Elham Fakhro, an associate fellow at London’s Chatham House think tank. But the Biden administration has insisted that these negotiations be held separately between Iran and the Gulf states, she added.

Direct talks with Iran are an attempt by the Arab Gulf states to do just that, but analysts doubt their ability to achieve results that can satisfy both parties.

“These talks are almost doomed to fail,” said Mohammed Alyahya, a fellow at the Hudson Institute. “At its core, the problem is not one between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it is between Iran and the United States. Iran is attacking the kingdom because it perceives it as a client state in an American imperialist order.”

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But Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator and professor at Princeton University, said both states have enough leverage over each other to justify negotiations.

“The key issue for both is mutual assurance of no hegemonic regional agenda” and security guarantees, he said. Saudi Arabia has the backing of the United States, and “Iran has a huge grassroots influence in the regional countries, which could be a long-term threat to the Saudis,” he said.

But it is the American backing that has come up lately. Dissatisfaction with the United States in the Gulf runs so deep that some see Washington’s role in the region as a spoiler rather than a guarantor of stability.

“The Gulf states see that the United States’ policy of reconciliation with Iran over the past decade is responsible for Iran increasing its aggression,” Alyahya said, adding that the policy has started “fires that can spread to our house.”

“When a pyromaniac comes to your home, it’s dangerous. What’s more frightening is when the pyromaniac comes dressed as a firefighter,” he said, referring to US policy toward Iran.

Other top news from the Middle East

President Biden to visit Israel in ‘the coming months’

U.S. President Joe Biden has accepted an invitation to visit Israel “in the coming months,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said Sunday, adding that Biden and Bennett spoke on the “Iranian issue” and Iran’s demand to remove its Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Corps (IRGC) from the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

  • Background: Nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers have recently been halted due to a number of important issues, one of which is Iran’s demand that its IRGC be removed from the FTO list. Bennett’s statement said Biden “will not allow the IRGC to be removed from the list.”
  • Why it matters: This visit to Israel will be the first for Biden as US President. He visited earlier in 2010 and 2016 while serving as vice president. Tensions remain high in Jerusalem following repeated clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa area over the past week and a half.

Yemen’s Iran-backed houthier is offering the release of 200 prisoners ahead of Eid al-Fitr

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi insurgents offered the UN the release of 200 prisoners from each of the country’s warring parties ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, Al-Masirah TV said on Sunday, citing Houthi prison committee leader Abdul Qader al. – Murtada.

  • Background: Earlier this month, Yemen’s warring parties agreed on a UN broker, nationwide ceasefire, for the first time in years, bringing hostilities between the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi movement to a decisive halt. Days later, a political upheaval saw the Yemeni president relinquish power to a presidential council in a move backed by Saudi Arabia.
  • Why it matters: Last month, a possible prisoner exchange under the auspices of the UN, which could free hundreds of prisoners, was discussed by warring parties. The exchange would involve 1,400 Houthi prisoners in return for 823 coalition prisoners, including 16 Saudi nationals and a brother of the former Yemeni president. A final agreement has not yet been reached.

Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are holding talks on Jerusalem

Jordan’s King Abdullah, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met in Cairo on Sunday to discuss violence in Jerusalem and the war in Ukraine, Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported.

  • Background: Tensions have been high in Jerusalem since Israeli police entered the Al Aqsa area last week to counter what they described as riots among Palestinians. Jordan, the guardian of the al-Aqsa mosque, previously called on Israel to “respect the historical legal status quo” and warned of an escalation. The Foreign Ministry of the United Arab Emirates also summoned the Israeli ambassador last week to protest Israeli forces’ treatment of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
  • Why it matterss: Egypt, which shares a border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip, is concerned about the recent unrest that is escalating to include Gaza. Last year, it brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas as they fought an 11-day war. The Arab League held an emergency meeting last week in the Jordanian capital Amman, urging Israel to stop Jewish prayers inside the al-Aqsa complex and warning that violence could trigger a broader conflict.

Around the region

The signs of wealth and prestige vary from country to country. Some boast their status with mansions, others with cars, but in the Arabian Gulf states, license plates are paramount.

On April 20, the Abu Dhabi license plate “2” brought in as much as $ 6.3 million at an Abu Dhabi auction.

First, a quick guide to number plates in the UAE: The fewer digits the plate contains, the more valuable it is; some codes are more desirable than others and plates from Dubai and Abu Dhabi emirates are the most expensive. A similar auction in Dubai a week earlier saw the record “AA 8” bring in almost $ 9.5 million.

So when mansions and supercars do not turn heads enough, people put license plates on their cars purchased at several times the car’s own value. But in some cases, the exorbitant procurement can also fulfill a philanthropic purpose.

The whole process from what is called the “Most Noble Numbers” auction in Abu Dhabi went to the country’s One Billion Meals initiative. Aiming to provide food aid in 50 countries around the world, the initiative is the largest food distribution campaign in the region and has distributed over 420 million meals since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

By Mohammed Abdelbary

Picture of the day

Priests lead Easter Mass for Syrian Orthodox Christians Sunday at Mart Shmoni Church in Bartella, east of Mosul in northern Iraq.

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