Suren Sargsyan

Chinese Initiative on Iran and Saudi Arabia Presents Opportunity to Armenia

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In recent days, quite interesting developments have been taking place in the South Caucasus region and beyond, which may have a significant impact on Armenia. A few days ago, Iran and Saudi Arabia signed a historic agreement on the establishing of relations under the strong leadership and mediation of Beijing. Of course, this does not mean that an atmosphere of trust will immediately be formed in the relations between the two states. However, the Chinese mediation will definitely provide certain security and other guarantees for both parties. In turn, this is an opportunity for Iran to distribute its limited resources more effectively, particularly considering the growing appetite of Azerbaijan and Turkey against Iran’s interests in the South Caucasus, particularly in the Syunik region of Armenia.

Basically, with this new role, China is positioning itself not only as a global economic force, but also as a global mediator in such major conflicts as the Iran-Saudi Arabia conflict. Historically, acting as the main mediator for reconciliation processes of this level, especially in the Middle East, has always been the American prerogative. Not coincidentally, Washington was quite reserved about the current initiative.

It is clear that such an initiative does not help the policy of the US and Israel to isolate Iran. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is considered one of the most reliable US allies in the Middle East, specifically against Iran. It is worth mentioning that in some political science circles in Washington, there is the fairly well-founded opinion that Iran is indispensable for a policy of more effectively counterbalancing China, so the US should regulate relations with Iran, taking into account these realities.

Let’s not forget that out-competing China is a global priority and challenge of the Biden administration as described in the national security strategy. With this initiative, China took several steps forward in this context, acting more quickly and effectively.

First, by bringing Iran and Saudi Arabia to its court, it complicated Washington’s plans to form a coalition against China on two different fronts. Of course, this does not mean that Saudi Arabia will lose its role and importance to Washington, or vice versa, but Riyadh will have a different kind of positioning towards China and under Beijing’s guarantees towards Tehran.

As for Iran, there cannot be the illusion that Tehran has finally solved its problems in the Middle East and everything is going well in this region, but it is noteworthy that on the very same day when Iran and Saudi Arabia signed the agreement, an Iranian military aircraft took to the air, and according to Azerbaijan, violated the latter’s airspace. This was, of course, a demonstrative demarche, because Iran could have obtained intelligence information about those areas near its border in other ways instead of launching the flight. Instead, through this act, Iran is showing Azerbaijan and Turkey that it has additional diplomatic guarantees and more available resources to counter the latter tandem in the South Caucasus region.

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Now let’s go to Armenia. The news about the establishment of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia was not particularly commented on in Armenia and no statement was made by the government. However, it is obvious that Iran is trying to concentrate its attention on the South Caucasus region and to make sure that there are no significant challenges arising from Saudi Arabia at this point. This is a new opportunity for Armenia to regulate its own relations with Saudi Arabia as Armenia never had diplomatic relations with that country. Of course, there were some historical initiatives when, with the help of some mediators, including the USA, there were attempts to regulate relations between Armenia and Saudi Arabia but they were not successful. Now this seems a more doable process, especially taking into account Saudi Arabia-Turkey relations.

This is an opportunity for additional diplomatic efforts for Armenia, which should be used, because such an opportunity may not last long. It is obvious that there will be various attempts to defeat the Chinese mediation, but this window will be open for some time and if a more professional approach is adopted in Armenia, the situation can be played in our favor.

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