Establishment Media Stunned, Depressed by the China-Brokered Iran-Saudi Deal
March 11, 2023, 2022 (EIRNS)—Yesterday’s announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, brokered by the Chinese government, is “a shift that left heads spinning in capitals around the globe,” today’s New York Times had to admit. The article, written by Peter Baker, the Times’s chief White House correspondent, was headlined “Iran-Saudi Pact Is Brokered by China, Leaving the U.S. on the Sidelines,” and it betrayed an Establishment unhappily trying to come to grips with the implications of what just happened.
“This is among the topsiest and turviest of developments anyone could have imagined, a shift that left heads spinning in capitals around the globe,” Baker began. “Alliances and rivalries that have governed diplomacy for generations have, for the moment at least, been upended.
“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.”
The article quoted Amy Hawthorne, deputy director for research at the Project on Middle East Democracy, a nonprofit group in Washington: “There is no way around it—this is a big deal.... 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.”
Baker warns readers that
“the decision to reopen embassies that were closed in 2016 represents only a first step.... In December, Saudi Arabia signed a strategic partnership agreement with China during a visit by China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, to the Kingdom. The deal underlines the growing ties between Beijing and Riyadh.”
The implications are far reaching, Baker warns, quoting Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Chair in Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations: “Some folks in the Gulf clearly see this as the Chinese century. The Saudis have expressed interest in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and a good deal of their oil goes to China.”
Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt now at Princeton University, told the Times: “It’s an unfortunate indictment of U.S. policy.... Is it a direct threat to the United States? That is debatable. But the regional order is changing.”
Michael Stephens, an associate fellow at the prestigious Royal United Services Institute think tank in London, had similar things to tell the Daily Telegraph: “This is a big deal. Not because Saudi and Iran have patched things up ... but because the U.S. was nowhere near it. Shifts are happening very, very fast.”
London’s The Economist, however, would have none of it, insisting that the deal would quickly fall victim to historic conflicts between Iran and Saudi Arabia—especially if they are actively fomented by the British.
“The deal will not end the countries’ proxy war, nor cement China as the region’s new powerhouse.... As ever in the Middle East, words are not actions: events could derail the rapprochement. Even if they follow through, this is a transactional agreement, not a transformational one. Iran and Saudi Arabia will remain at daggers drawn.”
As for China, “this is an undeniable shift in China’s role ... (but) China merely helped nudge the deal over the finish line. And it is hard to see how China can repeat the trick.... China can claim a diplomatic victory,” The Economist admitted begrudgingly. “But the underlying issues have not changed: This agreement is more about perception than reality.”