- Prestige from having brokered this hard to achieve deal.
- Increase in its rank as world power compared to its rival the United States.
The Americans, who have been the central actors in the Middle East for the past three-quarters of a century, almost always the ones in the room where it happened, now find themselves on the sidelines during a moment of significant change. The Chinese, who for years played only a secondary role in the region, have suddenly transformed themselves into the new power player. And the Israelis, who have been courting the Saudis against their mutual adversaries in Tehran, now wonder where it leaves them.
“There is no way around it — this is a big deal,” said Amy Hawthorne, deputy director for research at the Project on Middle East Democracy, a nonprofit group in Washington. “Yes, the United States could not have brokered such a deal right now with Iran specifically, since we have no relations. But in a larger sense, China’s prestigious accomplishment vaults it into a new league diplomatically and outshines anything the U.S. has been able to achieve in the region since Biden came to office.”
Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt now at Princeton University, said the shifting dynamics represented by the Chinese-brokered pact still pose a challenge to the Biden administration when it would prefer to focus elsewhere.
“It’s a sign of Chinese agility to take advantage of some anger directed at the United States by Saudi Arabia and a little bit of a vacuum there,” he said. “And it’s a reflection of the fact that the Saudis and Iranians have been talking for some time. And it’s an unfortunate indictment of U.S. policy.”
Peter Baker. "Iran-Saudi Pact Is Brokered by China, Leaving U.S. on Sidelines". The New York Times, March 11, 2023: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/11/us/politics/saudi-arabia-iran-china-biden.html
“Renewed Iran-Saudi ties as a result of Chinese mediation is a lose, lose, lose for American interests. It demonstrates that the Saudis don’t trust Washington to have their back, that Iran sees an opportunity to peel away American allies to end its international isolation, and it establishes China as the majordomo of Middle Eastern power politics.” — Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD): "Saudi Arabia, Iran Agree to Reestablish Diplomatic Ties". March 10, 2023: https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2023/03/10/saudi-arabia-iran-agree-to-reestablish-diplomatic-ties/
For China, the agreement solidifies its legitimacy as a heavyweight diplomatic mediator able to resolve the most antagonistic geostrategic competition in the region. It could create the first conditions for a shift in the strategic balance in the context of rivalry with the United States in the Gulf. China’s ambitions to position itself as a credible peacemaker have a broader scope covering conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, especially after this agreement. This could be problematic in Washington. The United States’ hesitance to spend more political capital on mediating conflicts is increasingly seen in the Middle East as evidence of the United States’ declining power and its focus on competition with China in the Indo-Pacific. The agreement could also provide the Chinese leadership with more strategic options since de-escalating tensions between Riyadh and Tehran creates a thin layer of security and stability necessary for oil exports bound to China, trade sea lines of communication, and Chinese Belt and Road investments.
Ahmed Aboudouh, cited in: "Experts react: Iran and Saudi Arabia just agreed to restore relations, with help from China. Here’s what that means for the Middle East and the world". New Atlanticist, March 10, 2023: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/experts-react/experts-react-iran-and-saudi-arabia-just-agreed-to-restore-relations-with-help-from-china-heres-what-that-means-for-the-middle-east-and-the-world/