China touts Saudi-Iran deal as new hope for ME peace

The Chinese-brokered diplomatic deal between the two major Middle East powers — Iran and Saudi Arabia —has breathed new life into the hopes for the resolution of regional conflicts, while registering China as the leading conciliator on the global stage.

Wang Di, the director-general at the Department of West Asian and North African Affairs in the Chinese Foreign Ministry told a recent media briefing that the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement was “the major good news”.

“I have read that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once said that we need to seek the truth no matter how far it lies … And now I think we can say that in pursuit of peace, we can look to China,” Wang said, sharing the details of the ‘seismic’ deal.

The Wang’s statement came as a number of countries in the region, including Pakistan, welcomed Iran and Saudi Arabia’s move to re-establish their diplomatic relations under Chinese auspices after a seven-year gap.

The two regional heavyweights announced the Chinese-brokered deal on March 10 to restore ties which were severed after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in 2016 following the Saudi execution of cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Under the deal Iran and Saudi Arabia would reopen their embassies and missions within two months and implement security and economic cooperation deals signed more than 20 years ago.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Sunday that the two countries had agreed to hold a meeting between their top diplomats, while President Ebrahim Raisi also received an invitation from King Salman to visit the kingdom.

The deal is being seen as a historic strategic agreement, reflecting major changes on the world stage that could potentially change the face of regional politics – long considered to be the doing of the US, the architect of major geopolitical configurations.

Commenting on the reactions pouring in from around the world, Wang noted that “the major good news” had come as a sigh of relief for the people long bearing the brunt of regional chaos and tensions.

He added that the détente could only be realised due to the genuine willingness on the part of countries concerned. He acknowledged that all countries, regardless of their geopolitical locations, have hailed the development in unison.

“We saw a genuine smile on Pakistan’s foreign minister’s [Bilawal Bhutto Zardari] face while he was welcoming the agreement,” he added, referring to Pakistan’s positive reaction to the news.

‘No selfish interests’

The remedying of the long-festering rifts has laid out a pattern for other countries to follow the suit and also hammer out peace agreements through dialogue “because many hostilities in the region are intertwined”.

While highlighting China’s emergence as a reliable mediator, Wang dismissed the notion that selfish geopolitical interests underpinned Beijing’s ambitions. “We do not seek any selfish interests or aim to fulfil the so-called vacuum.”

However, in response to a question, Wang underscored an important caveat: although the resumption of diplomatic ties had opened up many doors and Beijing was willing to play a constructive role, it was not a skeleton key for all problems in a world.

“Make no mistake. One dialogue cannot solve all problems. We have noted that the sides have expressed their willingness to improve their relations through dialogue and consultation,” he reminded.

In the same breath, however, he reiterated that the success of the Beijing dialogue was a milestone as it sought to calm the turbulent waters of the region mired in conflicts. “Both sides are willing to work step by step as not all problems will see resolution overnight.”

“It fully illustrates that no matter how complex the problems and how acute the challenges are, as long as the dialogue is conducted on an equal footing, in the spirit of mutual respect, a mutually acceptable solution can surely be found,” he remarked.

“The dialogue sets an example for countries in the Middle East to resolve conflicts and differences and achieve good neighbourliness through dialogue and consultation. It also provides a major piece of good news for the current turbulent world,” he reiterated.

In response to another question, Wang explained that the dialogue was also a success due to China’s support for it and hoped that the agreement would sustain despite the fact that hostilities between the two nations were rooted in history.

“It is always based on the willingness of the countries, instead of lecturing others,” Wang clarified, emphasising that China was always willing to make efforts but did not interfere. “We have played our role, set a pattern for them.”

Asked whether the deal would have an impact on the global energy supply chain as well, Wang said that since both countries were resource-rich and were located at strategically important lands, the resumption of diplomatic would also help the global energy supply.

Explaining why the US was unable to end the hostility, Wang said that the question should be put to the US itself. However, he emphasised that China established itself as a reliable mediator. “Saudi Arabia should be asked as to why they trusted China.”

Since the deal brokered, a flurry of diplomatic activity took place between Iran – which is strongly at odds with Western governments over its nuclear activities – and the Arab countries on the other side of the Persian Gulf.

In Tehran, Mohammad Jamshidi, the Iranian president’s deputy chief of staff for political affairs said in a tweet that President Ebrahim Raisi “has favourably received an invitation” from Saudi Arabia’s King to visit the kingdom.

“In a letter to President Raisi… the King of Saudi Arabia welcomed the deal between the two brotherly countries (and) invited him to Riyadh,” he tweeted, adding that “Raisi welcomed the invitation”.

Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian told reporters that the two countries had agreed to hold a meeting between their top diplomats, adding that three locations for the talks had been suggested, without specifying which.

Also a top Iranian security official, Ali Shamkhani, held talks with United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on Thursday in yet another sign of the shifting relations in the region.


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