Kuwaiti- Qatari mediation aims at de-escalation between Saudi Arabia, Iran

The differences between Riyadh and Tehran are too deep to be resolved through good faith efforts.
Wednesday 03/02/2021
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia January 5, 2021. (AFP)
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia January 5, 2021. (AFP)

KUWAIT--Kuwait is working to take advantage of the positive climate created by Gulf reconciliation to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

It is supported in this endeavour by Qatar’s desire to expand the scope of the Al Ula summit reconciliation process to include in it its Iranian and Turkish allies. But observers of Gulf affairs believe that the most Kuwaiti efforts can achieve is a temporary truce between Riyadh and Tehran.

Diplomatic sources at the Kuwaiti foreign ministry said that “Kuwait is ready to pursue its mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran when the appropriate conditions are met. Discussions to bridge viewpoints have never stopped.”

The Anadolu News Agency quoted these sources as saying that “Kuwait always seeks to bridge points of views and resolve differences through diplomatic means” and that “all that has been published about the resumption of mediation is nothing but analyses that are not based on accurate information.”

It pointed out that “the contentious issues between Saudi Arabia and Iran are not limited to Yemen, but extend beyond that to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as well, and all these issues are interrelated.”

The sources emphasised that “the agreement of the two sides reflects positively on the region in general, which is what Kuwait seeks on a permanent basis and hopes to achieve.”

Observers of Gulf affairs believe that Kuwait’s enthusiasm after its success in paving the way for Gulf reconciliation is likely to encourage it to make new attempts to cement its reputation as a successful mediator and invest in this positive image internally and externally.

But analysts also believe the issue goes beyond good faith efforts, as the row between Saudi Arabia and Iran stems from a conflict of interests. Any reconciliation may in fact benefit any of the two parties at the expense of the other.

Saudi Arabia cannot live with an Iranian nuclear programme, nor can it accept Iran’s missile programme. It also cannot tolerate the encroachment of Iran’s regional proxies, including armed militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and especially Yemen to spill over to the kingdom’s southern border, where the Houthis use missiles and drones smuggled from Iran to strike at civilian targets and economic establishments inside Saudi territory.

But observers do not rule out that Kuwaiti mediation would aim to achieve a truce between Riyadh and Tehran.

They indicate that the two parties may need to de-escalate their conflicts during the initial period of US President Joe Biden’s term in office until they discover the type of strategy the US president will pursue towards the region, and that this rapprochement may have a temporary effect on the escalation in Yemen.

Iran is working to reduce the risks of the Houthis being designated a terrorist group by the United States, and wants to encourage the new administration as its reviews that designation. Therefore, it is likely that Tehran will ask the Houthis to preserve calm and curtail their threats to the security of navigation and oil exports.

Saudi Arabia is waiting to see what kind of relationship will develop with Washington and whether the new administration is able to bypass the campaign rhetoric, as the administration of former President Donald Trump did, in order to build a relationship based on interests.

On the other side, Iran is expected to work for de-escalation before returning to the nuclear agreement process and does not want any interference in that process, especially with regard to Saudi Arabia’s request that any upcoming agreement include a provision to stop Iran’s interference in the region.

Kuwait has found support from Qatar in its quest to push mediation between Riyadh and Tehran, and it shares Doha’s desire to help Iran open the doors of dialogue with Saudi Arabia, based on the success of the Gulf reconciliation process with Qatar.

On Monday, Qatari Prime Minister Khalid bin Abdulaziz al-Thani discussed with his Kuwaiti counterpart Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah “regional and international developments.”

The official Kuwait News Agency said that the two men “exchanged views on the latest developments and issues of common concern on the regional and international arenas.”

The Saudis are not confident about dialogue with Iran because of their extensive experience with Tehran’s activities and those of its proxies in the region. Analysts do not expect Riyadh to deal with the issue of disagreements with Iran the same way it has dealt with reconciliation with Qatar.

Following the Gulf reconciliation agreement reached at the Al-Ula summit in Riyadh last month between Qatar on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt on the other hand, Doha has called for an Iranian-Gulf dialogue.

Last month, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said his country was ready to negotiate with Saudi Arabia on some of Riyadh’s concerns about Iranian policies.