GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Power Politics in Transition? Saudi Arabia and the Iran Deal
Paper Proposal Text :
The 2013 deal struck between the P5+1 and Iran marked a critical turning point in the history of American-Iranian relations and Middle East geopolitics. These developments represent a new policy narrative from Washington, which seeks to disengage from the zero-sum approach of the last several decades in favour of a pragmatic view of national interests and a sober understanding of the nature and limitations of power. Underwriting this approach is the belief that Iran could, in the words of Secretary of State John Kerry, “rejoin the community of nations and be a constructive contributor.”

Successful normalisation of relations between Washington and Tehran would be a prelude to a reconfigured security framework in the Middle East. This will be a complex process with disruptive elements along the way. Significantly, it will involve the reshaping of bilateral relations between a geopolitically unencumbered Iran and its principal regional rival, Saudi Arabia.

This forms the basis of the ambivalence, and even anger, demonstrated thus far by Saudi officials towards recent developments. The Kingdom’s anxieties are rooted in a belief that normalisation of Iranian-American relations will undermine its privileged regional position and influence on America's diplomatic agenda.

However, this paper argues that these developments do not define the zero-sum scenario currently envisaged by Saudi leadership. It does so by providing a historical analysis of Iran-Saudi rivalry in conjunction with Iran’s relations with America. In doing so, it will demonstrate that a beleaguered and internationally isolated Iran is a far greater threat to both regional and Saudi security. Moreover, the peaceful resolution of Iran’s nuclear dossier would be imperative for any regional framework that can successfully manage the rivalry and foster cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Thus, recent developments are potentially the prelude to a more balance structure of stakeholders in the Middle East.

The paper will conclude by identifying areas of mutual interest between the two actors that present grounds for confidence building measures that would east tensions and foster cooperation between the two actors.