Whilst it is certain there may be some people in the world who do not want to see a peaceful Middle East, there are many millions more, especially those who live in the region who do.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran probably go back centuries but those of us old enough to remember the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 will know this was the start of modern-day tensions which have from time to time erupted into hostilities. Iran and Iraq were at war for much of the 1980s and Saudi Arabia supported Iraq. It’s now well-known that the USA spent billions illegally supporting Iraq, and its leader Saddam Hussein, during this period.
In 1979, the USA already considered Iran to be what George W Bush would later term as part of the “Axis of Evil” after a large group of militants took over the US embassy and held more than 50 staff and military members hostage for over a year. In one interesting turn of events, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the release of all the women and any hostage who was a person of colour, on the basis that they would be unlikely spies for America.
Tensions that exist in the region haven’t been eased by US involvement, they’ve been stoked. As far as the US is concerned, there isn’t much good about Iran, according to the CIA World Factbook, they are abusers of human rights, abusers of religious freedoms and suppliers to Russia. It would never be easy to facilitate relationships when your intelligence apparatus publishes such allegations but it becomes even harder when your country has no diplomatic relations either. The US has not had an embassy in Iran since 1980 and Iran has no embassy in the USA. If we were looking for global leadership towards a peaceful resolution between neighbours in the Middle East, the USA is definitely not the place to look.
Without US involvement, the two countries reached tacit agreement to create a stable Middle East, in 1997 Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited Iran and two years later President Khatami of Iran visited Saudi Arabia where a Security Agreement was finally signed; all was looking good but in 2003, the USA invaded one of their neighbours and set that process back.
Fast forward to this week in China and the unthinkable has happened. China, showing the global leadership that has been absent for the last few decades, has brokered what future historians will describe as perhaps the most significant peace deal in modern history by bringing leaders from the two of the largest Middle Eastern economies to Beijing and reactivated the 2001 Security Agreement.
US media describes the deal as a surprise but White House Spokesperson John Kirby suggests that the US were well aware as they had been appraised by the Saudis. There is much criticism from the US about a lack of trust of China. Despite what the US believes, it’s clear that these two Islamic countries do not share the same misgivings.
Critics might suggest that it’s not China’s role to play peacemaker in a region heavily influenced by the USA but if China couldn’t then who could? The USA claims to have been trying for the last 60 years but has only succeeded in enriching its military suppliers and clearly hasn’t brought anything like peace or stability to any of the places where it claims to have tried.
When we think of modern conflicts, we think of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen Israel and Palestine, they’re all in the Middle East and all could be resolved with diplomacy; In Africa, Algeria and Morocco, Mali and Benin, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, all require international and peaceful interventions, they don’t want or need military boots on the ground, they need diplomats.
Diplomacy has been missing but China has brought it back. The reopening of embassies in Iran and Saudi Arabia is just a first step, it’s likely this will lead to an easing of tensions in Yemen. Success in this part of the Middle East could extend to other parts of the region and proof of China’s good intentions could lead to deeper discussions in Ukraine. Who knows, with a new leader in global terms that doesn’t have a military industrial complex to feed, we could finally see some peace in the world.