Saudi Arabia must be concerned.Iran, the Saudis’ big rival for power in the Gulf, is developing a better—though not by any means good—relationship with the U.S., and it may look like trouble to the Kingdom. Only a few short years ago, U.S. hackers used the Stuxnet virus to destroy Iranian centrifuges, whereas we now engage Iran in diplomatic talks in hopes that it will rein in its nuclear program willingly.That is why it’s notable that Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal invited his Iranian counterpart to talks in Riyadh last month, saying: “Any time that [Iranian foreign minister Zarif] sees fit to come, we are willing to receive him. Iran is a neighbour, we have relations with them and we will negotiate with them, we will talk with them.” In addition, diplomatic exchanges between the countries have been slightly warmer and more frequent, even though the religious and historical division between the two nations remains stark. FT reports:
Iran has had contacts with several of Riyadh’s Gulf allies; the emir of Kuwait was in Tehran this month. Saudis and Iranians stood back and allowed their allies in Lebanon to form a coalition government after an 11-month hiatus. And Prince Bandar, the Saudis’ adventurist point-man on Syria policy, looks to have been shunted aside.
Why might this be? The Saudis know that if Tehran strikes a deal on nukes with Washington, it will do so only if it thinks it is getting something valuable in return. That could be many things, none of them particularly desirable for Riyadh. The Saudis may fear that Tehran sees the U.S. as tacitly agreeing not to thwart Iranian efforts to seize control of the entire fertile crescent, from Basra to Beirut.Remember: Middle East diplomacy is so complicated and duplicitous that this latest Saudi move could just as easily be a feint. If, for example, the Saudis were contemplating a strike against Iran, they might want to make nice to hide their intentions. Either way, this is a story to watch.