Future Outlook of Tehran-Riyadh Ties in Post-King Abdulla Era

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ja'far Haghpanah
Assistant Professor of Regional Studies at University of Tehran, Iran

What would be the future path of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy now that the country’s decade-long monarch, King Abdullah, is dead and his successor, King Salman has ascended to the throne? This question is very important as various areas in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy overlap with regional security and, especially, the national interests and security of Iran under present circumstances. Unlike its old politicians, the power structure in Saudi Arabia is not very old. There are established bureaucratic trends that delineate the outlines of this country’s foreign policy. Major political cases are usually handled by influential elites who manage such cases. For example, the cases of Syria, Yemen, Palestine, or even Iran's case were handled by these elites in the past under direct oversight of King Abdullah.

King Abdullah was among influential and well-known personalities of the Sudairi clan – also known as Sudairi Seven or Sudairi faction – which has been traditionally inclined to see stability in the region and have good relations with important regional countries such as Iran. It was under Abdullah’s rule that some important issues between Iran and Saudi Arabia, including the case of Hajj and signing of a security agreement between the two countries came to a successful conclusion. It should be noted that this approach to have good relations with Iran is a position related to power structure in Riyadh in which Sudairi faction plays an important role and seeks to reduce tensions in Saudi Arabia’s foreign relations. Some radical measures and approaches taken in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy during past years, especially with regard to the situation in Syria and Iraq, should be considered as a sign of the increasing power of rival factions, which opposed the position of Sudairi clan, especially during the period when King Abdullah has been sick and failed to play his influential role. During that period, which actually came about following the outbreak of Arab revolutions, radical elements found more power and were able to push ahead with their extremist policies.

It seems that King Salman will more or less tread the same path as King Abdullah. This looks more true now that the policy followed by Saudis through a trial and error approach has hit a stonewall on several fronts, including in fighting extremism. It was the same policy whose failure prompted Saudi Arabia to incline toward fighting terrorist and extremist groups such as the ISIS after having supported these groups for a while. Therefore, some observers expect that Riyadh will once again put on its agenda the establishment of cordial ties with important regional countries, including Iran and Iraq. At the same time, the offspring of King Abdullah, who mostly follow suit with their father’s approach, sway high power and influence in the country’s political structure and can, as such, keep the country’s political orientation on the same trail that has been already blazed by their father.

Of course, relations between Tehran and Riyadh are not just a matter of interest for the leaders of the two countries, and are also affected by other regional and transregional players. As a result, as the new era in the two countries’ relations begins, those relations should be managed in such a way as to minimize existing grounds for outside intervention. To achieve this goal, both countries should achieve a mutual understanding of their common interests in medium term. Such issues as further spread of extremism and terrorism, Islamophobic currents, and even the long-term reduction in global oil prices can be considered as major threats to both countries. Therefore, if new rulers in Riyadh really seek cooperation with Iran, the two sides should first chalk out common grounds for future cooperation and improvement of relations. At any rate, this is a very sensitive juncture in which a new leadership gets established in Riyadh. Therefore, it is incumbent on both sides to declare the official policies of their respective countries out loud. This will prevent certain circles and nongovernmental currents in Iran, which are considered by Arab states as opposed to détente and interaction, to be known as main representatives of our countries’ foreign policy. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is also expected to put an end to its ambiguous and dual policy toward Iran and hear the voice of an Iran which seeks cooperation and détente with Saudi Arabia.

It is mostly due to the above facts that Iran's friendly parties in the region are painstakingly following up on Tehran’s reactions following the demise of King Abdullah. They believe that participation of a high-ranking delegation from Iran in the mourning ceremony of King Abdullah can be an important and determining starting point for a basic move to repair the two countries’ relations.

Key Words: Tehran-Riyadh Ties, Post-King Abdulla Era, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Policy, Sudairi Faction, ISIS, Extremism, Terrorism, Iran, Cooperation, Détente, Haghpanah

Source: Iran Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: The New York Times

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