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China-brokered deal with Saudi is good news but wait until it is implemented: Iranian scholars

The China-brokered agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume diplomatic relations is “good news,” but it is best to wait until it is implemented, Iranian scholars said.

“It is good news,” Setarah Sadeqi, an Iranian expert on geopolitical affairs, said of the agreement signed by Riyadh and Tehran to resume diplomatic relations last week in Beijing, China’s capital.

“But,” she added, “I tend to be very skeptical (and) wait until things are actually implemented.”

The two Persian Gulf neighbors severed ties after an angry mob attacked the Saudi diplomatic mission in Tehran in January 2016, following the execution of prominent Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

They agreed last Friday to resume bilateral relations in the next two months after several days of talks facilitated by the Chinese government.

While many described it as a “diplomatic coup” by Beijing, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in an apparent jibe at the US, said, “the world is not limited to just the Ukraine issue.” He was referring to Russia’s war on Ukraine stretched to over a year now, with open backing by the US-led Western bloc to Kyiv while Beijing has not condemned Moscow.

“Saudi Arabia and Iran talks and dialogue in Beijing victory for peace… talks advanced on the basis of the consensus of leaders of China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran,” Wang said after he joined Saudi and Iranian officials to stamp the deal in the Chinese capital. The negotiations during the deal were reportedly conducted in Arabic, Persian and Chinese.

“We are basically from the same region… we have a lot of mutual interests, but there were forces from outside that were benefitting from this conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” Sadeqi told Anadolu.

“It was mainly the US and the Zionist entity that was benefitting from it,” she alleged in an oblique reference to Israel.

Several Iranian academics and geopolitical experts spoke to Anadolu about the Riyadh-Tehran agreement over the weekend in the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul, where they had come to attend an international conference.

“But now Saudi Arabia is probably, I hope, coming to understand that the US is not really supporting (them) and they (Riyadh) are trying to send a message to the US: if you are not really supporting us in Yemen (conflict) and other things, we can just shift to China,” she argued.

Under the terms of the agreement, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to respect state sovereignty and refrain from interfering in each other’s internal matters.

The two countries are also expected to activate a security cooperation agreement signed in 2001, besides resuming the trade, economy and investment agreement signed in 1998.

The “main problem” of disputes between Iran and Saudi Arabia “is rooted in extremists,” Hamidreza Shariatmadari of Iran’s University of Religions and Denominations told Anadolu.

“I personally appreciate this deal… it will be useful not only for Iran and Saudi Arabia, but also the Islamic world, and it was necessary to be made and maybe some years ago,” Shariati said.

But, he said extremists exist on both sides who “justify the existence of the other side, so the main problem is extremist (elements).”

“You can find them in Islamic seminaries… most of them are outside of Islamic seminaries (because) there are political aims, goals and maybe economical benefits (as well),” Shariati said, hoping that the agreement will sustain.

When there are disputes, neither country benefits, he said, adding that “only Israel benefits.”

Shariati suggested that Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, and Türkiye should come together and that if “these countries are aligned, they can easily make a new power in the world… Islam connects them to each other.”

Dr. Mohammad Javdan, a Muslim scholar based in Iran’s Qom province, told Anadolu that the hostility between Riyadh and Tehran is “harmful for Muslims, the countries of the region, and the Middle East.”

“This deal should hold because these two countries are powerful countries in the region; they are Muslim (nations),” he said, pointing out that the Muslim-majority nations represent the two largest sects in the Islamic world.

Besides, resuming diplomatic relations would allow Tehran and Riyadh to establish people-to-people contacts, Javdan said.

“Cooperation between these two countries helps ideals of Islam, ideals of Muslim countries… It is useful for Muslims, for the region, (and) maybe harmful to Israel and Zionists,” he added.

Agreeing with Javdan’s views, Sadeqi wondered: “Why Iran and Saudi Arabia should have the conflicts in the first place?”

Sadeqi said the deal between Riyadh and Tehran also “shows that there is more world power in the region to stop, basically playing into the game (that) the US and the Zionist entity want.”

While she said Tehran had “never” shown any sign of willingness to normalize relations with Israel, “but Saudi Arabia was on the track to do so.”

“I hope this deal would prevent them from going that way,” the geopolitical expert said, adding that Riyadh has “agreed to stop funding very hostile media” towards Iran.

“I am still waiting to see what Tehran is going to do in exchange for that.

“But, they are now more willing to come to an agreement with Saudi Arabia in terms of Yemen (conflict),” she added.

Whether Iran’s internal financial issues forced Tehran to accept mediation by China, Sadeqi responded: “I wouldn’t be surprised if it did, because Iran needs to have some foreign reserves and a lot of it comes from its oil exports.”

“At the same time, Iran was seeing record oil exports since the renewal of sanctions (by the US) … It wasn’t that Iran was in a very dire situation, but it did need to get more foreign reserves coming into the country,” she explained.

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