March 13, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10522

In Saudi Press, Cautious Optimism Follows Saudi-Iranian Renewal Of Relations

March 13, 2023
Iran, Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 10522

In a dramatic move on March 10, 2023, Saudi Arabia and Iran declared that they had reached an agreement to renew relations after a seven-year hiatus.[1]Through Chinese mediation, the two countries agreed to reopen their respective embassies within two months, and to reactivate past Saudi-Iran agreements, among them a 2001 security cooperation agreement. In the framework of the understandings, the principle of "respect for the sovereignty of the countries and non-intervention in their internal affairs" was emphasized.

The announcement of the renewal of Saudi-Iran relations mediated by China, which came as a surprise to many, reflects a significant turning point in the tense relations between the two countries. However, it appears that beyond their shared desire to resolve their disagreements through dialogue and diplomacy, they have yet to consolidate meaningful accords in the matter of their most outstanding differences – the war in Yemen, Iran's nuclear and missile development programs, Iranian and Iranian militias' involvement in Arab countries, and more.

China's involvement in reaching the agreement is also a critical development, reflecting a shift in the balance of power in the region. As the agreement's underwriter, China has become a consequential player in conflict resolution in the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia's acquiescence to its mediation is further evidence of the ebb in Saudi-U.S. relations; the latter is no longer perceived as a reliable ally for guaranteeing Saudi interests.

The Saudi press welcomed the agreement with cautious optimism. Saudi journalists saw Iran's commitment to honor Saudi sovereignty and not interfere in its internal affairs as a significant achievement and one that will lead to regional stability and enable economic growth, in accordance with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030. At the same time, they maintained that the revival of relations does not necessarily man the end of the disputes between the countries, and that the true test will be to see whether Iran's intentions are serious and whether it is committed to the agreement.

The journalists also stressed China's crucial role in drawing up the agreement,. and the guarantees it has provided in the framework of what they referred to as China's "different political strategy." China's relations and interests regarding both sides, they said, have made it a more active and trustworthy mediator with the capability of curbing Iranian policies. This is in stark contrast with the Western countries, which have not shown firmness vis-à-vis Iran and which, when negotiating with it over its nuclear program, failed to take into account the security interests of the region.

This report reviews the responses in the Saudi press to the announcement of the renewal of Saudi-Iranian ties

Senior Saudi Journalist: The Renewal Of Relations Doesn't Mean That The Disagreement Is Resolved; Reconciliation Is Desirable, But With Eyes Wide Open

In an article titled "Saudi-Iranian Relations – What Has Changed?" published March 12, 2023, senior Saudi journalist Tariq Al-Homayed, former editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote: "...It is only natural for there to be diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, even at a low level, because the points of contact between them are many due to Iran's – but not Saudi Arabia's – expansionism. Fine, relations have been renewed. Will that be the end of the dispute [between them]? Of course not...

"The question is: So what has changed? The truth is that Saudi Arabia hasn't changed; it is the Iranian regime which is undergoing an existential crisis, and whoever believes that Riyadh has just thrown a lifeline to Tehran would be wrong, because the Iranian crisis was created by the [Iranian] regime itself and is purely domestic. There is also an external Iranian crisis, which is more complicated – the crisis of the nuclear issue, with which Riyadh is unconnected, and it is also unconnected to the question of to whether or not a blow will be dealt to Iran by the U.S. or by Israel, which is constantly threatening to do this.

"The situation in the region shows that both economic and political development are very strong today in Saudi Arabia, while Iran is mired in internal and external crises. Riyadh is not interested in getting involved in these crises, and is making sure that relations in the region are relations of cooperation and not of confrontation. Thus, an opportunity has arisen between a side that strives day and night for development – that is, Saudi Arabia – and a side that casts doubt on every measure – that is, Iran.

"This matter has various implications. It is true that Iran has never adhered to an agreement, with Saudi Arabia or with others, but in this case there is an additional dimension, and this is the Chinese dimension. It is China that is guaranteeing this current agreement, and this will affect whether Iran will adhere [to the agreement]. This is definitely of concern to the U.S. and to the West, although they have not demonstrated seriousness regarding the security of the region since the beginning of the activity related to reaching an agreement regarding the [Iranian] nuclear issue, in 2015. Therefore, Saudi Arabia is acting in accordance with its own interests and has politically recalibrated, so that it will not be a side in any conflict and will be free to focus on [its own] development.

"Has Saudi Arabia changed? No, it is acting in accordance with its rational approach, which espouses dialogue. Should Iran be believed? History has taught us that it should't be. Has Saudi Arabia acted rashly? Not at all! Rationality, and defusing crises, is the steadfast Saudi approach. Therefore, what is important is: Reconcile, but keep your eyes open..."[2]

Editor Of Saudi Daily: Arming The Houthis And Hizbullah And Iranian Interference In Internal Affairs Of Countries In The Region Will Destroy The Agreement

A March 12, 2023 article by Khalid bin Hamad Al-Malik, editor in chief of the Saudi Al Jazira daily, titled "A New Page in Relations with Iran," stated: "The attainment of an agreement between the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] and Iran about the conclusion of the disputes between them is not only a Saudi-Iranian objective. The positive impacts of this [agreement] are not limited only to Riyadh and Tehran – rather, this is an agreement that will benefit the countries of the region and the entire world. This is because of the importance of Iran and Saudi Arabia and of their active roles in achieving peace and stability in the region…

"It is inappropriate [at this time] for us to open past chapters, with all the bad things that happened in them, and for us to talk about the reasons for the tension in the region and which country is to blame for it. We must look to the future, with great hope that this reconciliation will be the last one [and that it will lead] to the building of better relations between the two countries, and that neither one of them will rekindle the disputes or invent baseless excuses as a pretext [to reignite them]... We hope that [this time] the two countries, and all the countries of the region, will benefit from the bitter experience of instability in the region, and that there will a commitment to this agreement between the Kingdom and Iran, so that this time it will be lasting because of a desire to safeguard shared interests.

"Iran is a Muslim country, neighboring several countries in the region and sharing a history with the Arab Gulf states. It is not in its interest to be an outcast or excluded, or not to maintain cooperation with our country. The renewal of Iranian-Saudi relations is the fulfilment of the wishes of both peoples in both countries... and of all the peoples of the region. I believe that the agreement reached in Beijing will not be like the previous [Saudi-Iranian] agreements; commitment to them was temporary, and as a result the disputes returned. [I believe] this because this agreement was preceded by deep and extensive preparation in Baghdad and Muscat, and because the jewel in the crown was Beijing...

"The bloody war in Yemen and the tragic situation in Lebanon and other places were caused by [Iranian] interference in the [internal] affairs of the countries in the region. Tehran knows this well, and it is undeniable. This means that any arming of the Houthis [in Yemen] and of the Lebanese Hizbullah following this agreement will jeopardize the possibility of peace in the region. What is needed now and in the future, after the renewal of diplomatic relations between the two countries was announced, is to assist the Yemenis and the Lebanese to overcome the devastating disasters with which their countries are contending, and then to move on to deal with the situations in Syria and in Iraq. [What else is needed is to] also act in a positive manner, responsibly and jointly, regarding the [other] focal points of tension in every part of our region. These details were undoubtedly part of the lengthy dialogue [held] between the two countries... Committing to not interfere in the internal affairs of the countries is the correct path to stable and sustainable peace...[3]

Saudi Journalist: The First Two Months Will Be A Test Of Iran's Trustworthiness And Commitment To The Agreement

In his column in the Saudi 'Okaz daily, under the title "Will the Agreement Pass the Test of Trustworthiness?' Saudi journalist Hamoud Abu Taleb wrote: "The intensive negotiations between the two sides, that were underway for the past two years, confirm the policy principles of Saudi Arabia, which are manifested in resolving disputes by means of dialogue and diplomacy, based on the international treaties which regulate [international] relationships, as well as by respecting the sovereignty of nations, non-interference in their internal affairs, and honest striving to achieve peace and security in the region and in world. Therefore, Saudi Arabia's hand has always been extended to Iran to resolve the disagreements...

"There is no doubt that all reasonable and peace-loving people who also aspire to stability welcomed this important agreement between the kingdom and Iran, which was announced in Beijing. [They also welcomed] its clauses, which include a renewal of relations [between the two countries] and the implementation of the previous agreements between them. And, in fact, the two-month period that was set out [until the] embassies would be opened and relations renewed is the first test of Iran's trustworthiness, and [will serve as] proof of its good intentions. It is imperative that we feel the beginning of true change in the scene it has created around us, and real repair of its attitude toward the kingdom. [Furthermore,] even if Iran does pass its test during this period, it must prove that it will continue with seriousness to be totally committed to what has been agreed upon."[4]

The Saudi-Iranian agreement – merely bandaging the Middle East hemorrhage (Source: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, March 12, 2023.)

"Arab News" Editor In Chief: "Saudi Officials Will Continue To Be On High Alert, Absolutely Clear-Eyed That What Is Agreed With Iranian Foreign Policy Officials May Not Be In Alignment With The IRGC"

Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of, wrote on the website under the title "Is This The End Of Saudi-Iranian Tensions?":

"The Saudi-Iranian agreement achieved with Chinese mediation is a significant development in regional geopolitics. It includes an unprecedented Iranian commitment to respecting sovereignty, not interfering in internal affairs, and restoring security cooperation.

"If Tehran keeps its end of the bargain this could be a true game-changer, heralding an era of regional peace and prosperity not seen in decades.

"Of course, these are early days; there needs to be a trust-building period, and actions on the ground to cement the agreement. Some may be skeptical of Saudi intentions, or indeed call this a U-turn; they are clearly not up to date with the Kingdom’s declared policy. Friday’s agreement is in line with what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told The Atlantic magazine a year ago — that we see Iran as a neighbor...

"I genuinely hope this is an opportunity for the Iranian regime to focus on building its economy and looking after its people, just as our leadership does with us here in the Kingdom. If both countries are thriving and we achieve peace and prosperity, that would be good not just for Saudi Arabia but for the whole region, and indeed the world.

"Saudi officials will continue to be on high alert, absolutely clear-eyed that what is agreed with Iranian foreign policy officials may not be in alignment with the Revolutionary Guards...

"Inevitably, armchair experts in the U.S. and Europe will miss the bigger picture, focus on China’s role, and question why the U.S. was excluded. I don’t believe that exclusion was indicative of a lack of trust; America remains the most important and steadfast of Saudi strategic allies. Rather it is in the nature of these negotiations that to succeed they must be shrouded in secrecy and conducted through mediators accepted by both parties as fair, without bias or conflict of interest. China fits that bill perfectly...

"While Saudi-Iranian tensions are far from over, this agreement could be the beginning of the end of a decades-long and bloody chapter."[5]

Saudi Journalist: The Reason For Renewal Of Relations Is The Desire Of Both Countries To Develop Their Economy In Accordance With Global Changes And The Spirit Of The Times

In his column in the 'Okaz daily, Saudi author and journalist Abdo Khal argued that the reason for the renewal of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia is both countries' realization that the current era requires economic development. He wrote:

"The renewal of Saudi-Iranian relations is a good start for building the future, since the region is in desperate need of calm and stability between the two countries. Saudi Arabia's supremely [important] aspiration is to complete the building [of the future], and its top priority is resolving all disputes that hinder this ambitious undertaking...

"Economic development requires [regional] stability, and no clashes, wars, or disturbances to hinder the continuation of the building of the future. The renewal of Saudi-Iranian relations will resolve numerous interconnected issues that have caused headaches in the region... Countries will not prosper if they foster sectarianism; they prosper by creating a stable economy that reflects the spirit of the times and the shifts that have occurred that did not exist 40 years ago. Arriving at this agreement now is clear proof that these two countries felt that the circumstances of the era have changed, and that reviving their relations will free them of the unresolved problems that keep them from attaining stability and construction.

"China is [the party] directly involved in the agreement because it used a strategy that was different than that of previous mediators, and [also] because it established solid relations between the two countries that resolved numerous complications and disputes that others had not managed to resolve.

"Both countries are well aware that there is a global change, in which economic power is the leading [force], and this requires security stability... Both countries sensed that it was time each country focused on building its economic aspirations and power, without the security of the region being disrupted by disputes that could be overcome with negotiations, and with each party ensuring that it doesn't interfere in the internal affairs [of the other] – [since doing so] would likely shatter this rapprochement."[vi]

Chinese dragon as peace dove waving the Saudi and Iranian flags (Source: Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, London, March 12, 2023)

Saudi Journalist: For Four Decades, The U.S. And Europe Did Nothing For Our Security – We Had No Choice But To Replace Them With China

In his column in the Saudi Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily, Saudi journalist 'Abdallah bin Bjad Al-'Otaibi wrote that the agreement with Iran was made possible by China's mediation. China, he said, is "a guarantor that is much more reliable and active in restraining the Iranian policy" than the U.S. and Europe, since for the past 40 years these have disregarded the Saudis' and Gulf states' security needs. He wrote:

"The Saudi 2030 Vision is based entirely on an unprecedented Saudi revival in the realms of development, economy, science, and the political sphere... The godfather of the vision, the Saudi crown prince, has already stated in his vision for the region that it will be transformed into 'the new Europe.' [But] growth, development, and prosperity in the region cannot be realized without peace and stability. The problem is that [so far] the Iranian regime has blocked this path, by means of its policy and its well-known strategy. This time, however, it responded to China's overtures. Why?

"It is well known that the Iranian regime was established 40 years ago as 'the Islamic Revolution,' and that it has refused to change from a 'revolution' into a 'state.' On the contrary: It worked to 'export its revolution,' and was able to take over the decision[-making] of four Arab countries, after [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali] changed the strategy of [his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini from direct war to wars by means of proxies.

"For all of modern history, the senior allies of the Arab Gulf countries were the Western countries, America and Europe. For four decades these countries did nothing to protect the security of the Arab Gulf countries from the ongoing and constant Iranian threat; in fact, they are not prepared to do anything in this matter. They signed a nuclear agreement with Iran, about which the Gulf states and the relevant Arab countries were not consulted, and did not consider these countries' priorities or security. Furthermore, the policy they implement is reminiscent more of fawning, and the Western political apparatus has become a failure and ineffectual in dealing with Iran. There was no option but to seek a replacement for [the West]. And then along came China...

"China is Iran's most important ally, and its greatest [shared] interests with Saudi Arabia make it a much more reliable and active guarantor regarding restraining the Iranian policy and [ensuring] that Iran will adhere to the international agreements that it has signed. The Saudi-Iranian-Chinese statement announces an agreement which lays the groundwork for a renewal of an exchange of ambassadors between the two countries within two months. This will be a true test of the Iranian regime's ability to follow through on what it signed, to respect the sovereignty of the countries, and to undertake not to interfere in their internal affairs – issues that were not even mentioned in the infamous [2015] 'nuclear agreement' with the Iranian regime.

"Should this agreement succeed and endure, then the prosperity of the region and its countries and its peoples – including the Iranian country and its people – will increase, and peace and stability will increase many times over..."[vii]

China's ascending power (Source: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London)


[1] Saudi-Iranian relations were severed in 2016 after demonstrators attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad following Saudi Arabia's execution of the Saudi Shi'ite oppositionist cleric Nimr Baqr Al-Nimr. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6251: Iran Furious Over Saudi Arabia's Execution Of Shi'ite Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, January 4, 2016; and Inquiry & Analysis No. 1215: Unprecedented Tension Between Saudi Arabia, Iran Following Execution Of Shi'ite Cleric Nimr Al-Nimr, January 4, 2016.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 12, 2023.

[3] Al-Jazeera (Saudi Arabia), March 12, 2023.

[4] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 12, 2023.

[5], March 11, 2023.

[6] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 12, 2023.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 12, 2023.

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