China’s Middle East Power Play
Saudi Arabia’s theatrical reception during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s December visit garnered plenty of attention. What didn’t was the most consequential aspect: Xi’s offer to mediate restored diplomacy between Saudi Arabia and longtime regional foe Iran.
Xi’s proposal came to light Friday when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with top Iranian and Saudi Arabian officials in Beijing to unveil a normalization agreement between the adversaries. They now have two months to finalize the deal and reopen embassies in each other’s capitals, but the rapprochement’s full implementation—contingent on Iran’s good behavior—is far from assured.
Saudi Arabia and Iran broke ties after Iranian protesters overran the Saudi embassy in response to Riyadh’s execution of a Shiite cleric in 2016, but sectarian differences, clashing allegiances, and Iranian proxy warfare have long marred their relationship.