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Iranian-Saudi Agreement: Impact on the Gulf and U.S.-Saudi Relations

Featured Speakers: Dr. Dania Thafer, Dr. Abdulaziz Sager, Dr. Banafsheh Keynoush, and Dr. Kenneth Katzman.


On March 10, 2023, the world was stunned by the announcement that the Gulf’s greatest rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia, would restore diplomatic ties. Concluded in China after two years of negotiations in Iraq and Oman, the agreement was penned by the Iranian and Saudi National Security Advisors in the presence of the Chinese Foreign Minister. The accord commits both parties to resume diplomatic relations in two months, to respect the principles of non-interference and the sovereignty of states in the region, and to revive the 2001 security agreement that once improved ties between Tehran and Riyadh.

The world witnessed several rounds of talks since the first meeting between the two states in April 2021, but it was the concluding session in China this month that paved the way for a meeting of Iran and Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministers and the ultimate announcement that the two countries would end the diplomatic deadlock of the past seven years. The March 10 statement gave observers few insights into the mechanisms that will resolve the two sides’ several outstanding disputes, however. Little information begets significant speculation, and it remains to be seen if the agreement will change the relationship of the Gulf’s most powerful rivals—or the regional roles of external great powers—in the years to come.

How could the Gulf states leverage this agreement to end the war in Yemen? What factors motivated Iran and Saudi Arabia to sign the deal now? What were China’s interests in persuading both sides to reestablish diplomatic contact and pursue rapprochement? How will the United States’ role in the Gulf or America’s relationship with Riyadh be affected by China’s entry as a meditator in the region? Will this agreement limit the activities of the IRGC and proxy forces throughout the region? Will the IRGC commit to any de-escalation or security coordination agreements signed between Riyadh and the Raisi government? In the wider region, will conflict resolution efforts in Syria and Lebanon also benefit from the recent agreement? Is this agreement durable, or will it collapse?

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