Focus: Iran-Saudi normalization blitz agreement, sharp decline in US influence | Reuters

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran and Saudi Arabia’s surprise diplomatic deal offers a potential deterrent to Iran’s nuclear program and a chance to secure a ceasefire in Yemen. , there are many factors of interest to the United States.

A surprise deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia on diplomatic normalization presents an intriguing factor for the United States as it offers a potential deterrent to Iran’s nuclear program and a chance to consolidate a ceasefire in Yemen. There are many. Pictured from left: Saudi National Security Advisor Ivan, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, and Iran’s Supreme Security Council Secretary-General Shamkhani. A photo provided in Beijing on June 10, 2023. REUTERS/China Daily via REUTERS

But China’s role as a peace broker in the Middle East, a region where the United States has long exerted influence, also undoubtedly frustrates U.S. officials.

Iran and Saudi Arabia announced the deal on Wednesday after four days of closed-door talks in Beijing. Kirby, strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council (NSC), said on Monday that Washington was not directly involved in the deal, but that it had received reports from Saudi Arabia.

The United States and China are at odds in a variety of areas, from commerce to intelligence activities, and are increasingly competing for influence even in areas far from the two countries.

Kirby downplayed China’s involvement in Wednesday’s deal, and internal and external pressures, including Saudi Arabia’s effective deterrent to attacks from Iran or its proxies, ultimately pushed Iran to the negotiating table. He said it was the view of the U.S. government that he was sent to

But Jeffrey Feltman, a former senior U.S. official at the Brookings Institution, said the deal was more about China’s role than normalizing diplomacy for the first time in six years. “This deal will be seen as a punch to the Biden administration and as evidence of China’s rise, and that interpretation is probably correct,” he said.

US efforts to repair the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have stalled for two years, prompting Iran to accelerate its nuclear program. The current agreement was concluded under these circumstances.

Efforts to repair the nuclear deal have been complicated by Iranian authorities’ violent crackdown on protests and US sanctions against Iran for human rights violations.

Brian Katuris of the Middle East Institute said the deal would give the United States and Israel “new possibilities” to revive the stalled talks to repair the Iran nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia as a partner. “Saudi Arabia is deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear program. For new Iran-Saudi talks to be meaningful and impactful, concerns about Iran’s nuclear program must be addressed, or else It will be superficial,” he added.

The deal also offers hope for a more lasting peace in the Yemeni conflict that erupted in 2014. The Yemen conflict is commonly viewed as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

A UN-brokered ceasefire was signed in Yemen in April last year. The cease-fire agreement expired in October last year, but the cease-fire state has mostly been maintained without an extension agreement between the parties.

Daniel Russell, America’s top East Asian diplomat under Obama, said China’s role in brokering the deal would have “important implications” for Washington. It is unusual for China to act on its own initiative and help mediate negotiations in disputes in which it is not a party.

“The question is whether something similar will happen in the future,” he said, referring to the possibility of China playing a mediating role in conflicts in other regions. “Will President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow herald China’s role as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine?” he asked.

As for Iran, it’s unclear whether the deal will benefit the United States, said Nathan Rafferty, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group. “The difficulty comes at a time when Washington and its Western allies are increasing pressure on Iran. I will think about it,” he said with concern.

Some American politicians are already questioning China’s motives for getting involved in the deal. Republican Rep. Michael McCall, chairman of the US House Foreign Relations Committee, has denied China is a self-proclaimed peace broker. “I cannot be trusted as a fair and impartial intermediary, not a responsible stakeholder,” he said.

Kirby said the United States is closely monitoring Beijing’s actions in the Middle East and elsewhere. “We are not turning a blind eye to China’s influence in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. We are certainly continuing to monitor the situation,” he emphasized.

Still, Beijing’s involvement will add to perceptions of China’s growing power and influence and reinforce perceptions of a declining U.S. global presence, said John Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Looking. “The message China is sending is clear: the United States has overwhelming military power in the Gulf region, but China is strong and definitely has a growing diplomatic presence,” he said. pointed out.

(Reporters Phil Stewart and Michelle Nichols)