Saudi-Iran ties crucial to Middle East's stability
The recent restoration of Saudi-Iran relations brokered by China has dawned a new era for maintaining Middle East region's peace and stability that is coveted by Bangladesh, along with other countries, as a peace-loving nation and a part of the Muslim Ummah. Dhaka has cordially welcomed the new move with the hope that it would benefit Bangladesh both politically and economically securing its smooth energy supplies at a reasonable price and providing a new platform for the deployment of its work force on which the country largely relies.
Bangladesh buys more than half of its total annual crude oil consumption of around 7.7 million tonnes from Saudi Arabia which has been the largest supplier of energy to the world market with per day production capacity of nearly 12 million barrels.
Dhaka doesn't have significant imports from Iran which has been under the US sanctions since 2018 after President Donald Trump exited a nuclear accord signed in 2015 and re-imposed sanctions aimed at curbing oil exports and the associated revenues to Iran's government. But current Joe Biden government is now weighing up pros and cons to revive the deal.
Despite sanctions, according to some estimates, Iran's crude exports to the world market per day exceed one million barrels on higher shipments to China. Saudi Arabia is also currently the largest supplier of energy to China.
It is not surprising to the US to become restive with China's growing influence in the Gulf region with the latter increasingly giving the former a good run for its money as a global player. The latest evidence is Beijing's hobnobbing with Moscow after Russian invasion into Ukraine little more than a year ago.
The Saudi-Iran deal did not come to fruition overnight. China has put in lots of efforts and diplomatic demarches to make it happen. China's President Xi Jinping in last December visited Saudi Arabia and had a tete-a-tete with king Salman Bin Abdulaziz and his son, crown price and the de facto leader of the kingdom, Mohammed Bin Salman.
On the other hand, Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi in the middle of last month was on a three-day tour to Beijing to discuss many issues including the one that resulted in mending relationships with its mortal enemy, Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh severed its relations with Iran in early 2016 when its embassy in Tehran came under violent attack after Saudi execution of an outspoken Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, along with other 46 persons on charges of terrorism. Both Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-majority kingdom and Iran, a Shiite-majority state, have long been at daggers drawn to increase their influence not only in the Arab world but also in the Asian countries.
Bangladesh was not spared from their influence. Although Bangladesh is a Sunni-dominated country, its people are influenced by Iranian traditions and culture. No sooner had the Islam been established in Madinah, many Arabian scholars mainly from Makkah and Madinah set sail for the Near East and the Far East to spread Islam and its values among people.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have had a turbulent past. There have been a lot of peaks and troughs in their diplomatic relations since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. The relations hit the rock bottom when Saudi Arabia sided with Iraq's Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Iran in the 1980s and worsens further when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 with Saudi Arabia participating in a war against Saddam Hussain as part of allied forces. Later on, Tehran and Riyadh came closer after signing a general cooperation agreement in 1998 and a security cooperation agreement in 2001.
At the present time, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in many proxy wars in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and other places. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia has been trying to reinstate the government overthrown by Houthi rebels with the support of Iran. In Lebanon, Saudi Arabia once forced the then Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign in 2017, a move thought to be aimed at containing an Iranian ally, Hezbollah, a militant group fighting against Israel.
With the restoration of ties with Iran, Mohammad Bin Salman who is smeared by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018, may be reshaping his country's foreign policy in an attempt to emerge as a regional leader with a tilt toward the Russia-China-Iran bloc with the aim of getting rid of challenges and strains posed by Iran. Al this has to be done with keeping in mind that the US has been Saudi Arabia's key partners in terms of arms sales, military training and intelligence sharing.
The writer is a senior journalist