HomeMiddle EastUS officials skeptical of China deal but concerned about deterring Iran

US officials skeptical of China deal but concerned about deterring Iran

China dealt the Biden administration a stunning diplomatic setback by mediating to restore ties between adversaries Saudi Arabia and Iran at the end of last week.

That the Chinese Communist Party’s first demonstration of diplomatic mediation outside of East Asia reached the heart of the Middle East, a region US dominated — was a sure sign.

In a smart move, Beijing appears to have assumed the role of peacemaker over years of talks, achieving in just three months what could ostensibly become a new chapter in regional relations, all while undermining the nascent US-led strategic architecture designed to achieve the same goal of stability.

Publicly, Biden administration officials downplayed the news, saying they have always supported the initiative and that it serves Washington’s interests anyway. The last part is certainly true, as far as regional peace is concerned.

The US military is thinner in the Middle East than it has been in decades, and any major attack by Islamist terror groups or by Iran and its proxies, such as the one that hit Saudi Arabia in 2019, could derail it entirely. the Pentagon’s timeline for regrouping its global forces for future contests with China, CENTCOM’s top commander warned Senate lawmakers on Thursday.

But US officials worry that the Saudi-Iran deal will elevate Beijing’s stature in the region at the expense of Washington’s, which it will, as long as Iran keeps its part of the deal.

that’s a great Yeah, and US officials are skeptical. Iran has reportedly agreed to stop arming the Houthisbut its arms shipments have continued apace to the rebels in recent months.

Tehran now has the largest array of armed drones and ballistic missiles in the Middle East, making its military “exponentially more capable than it was just five years ago,” said the CENTCOM chief, US Army General. Erik Kurilla.

“Iran is not intimidated by its malign activities,” Kurilla testified before lawmakers on Thursday.

So why would Tehran give up its influence now? On the one hand, mediator China has significant economic influence over the Islamic Republic, and rapprochement could further break the isolation Washington has built around Iran in recent years.

What exactly the deal means for US-led efforts to convince Arab states to build ties with Israel remains unclear, and likely depends on which lens you’re looking at: military, diplomatic or economic.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he suggested that “US and Israeli weakness” encouraged Riyadh to turn to other channels, and he is not entirely wrong about that.

The Trump administration ripped up the 2015 nuclear deal and applied a maximum pressure campaign on Iran, but the US military failed to intercept all of Tehran’s subsequent retaliatory strikes against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Whether a boost to Beijing’s diplomatic influence will translate into more Chinese arms sales in the region is also likely to depend on Iran’s behavior. China has played both sides of the Gulf tensions, and the latest deal is unlikely to dampen the interest of GCC states in upgrading their air defenses, regardless of who sells.

But allowing the United States to use bases in the Gulf for a future joint attack with Israel against Iran’s nuclear sites could be another matter, if talks between Tehran and Riyadh progress.

Ultimately, the deal may go nowhere, as Jesse Marks argues in Foreign policy.

In spite of the last naval exercise between Iran, Russia and China in the Gulf of Oman this week, it is too early to talk about something like a Eurasian axis aligned against US interests.

But if a multipolar order emerges in the next few decades, this week’s news reminds us that it may not start in the Indo-Pacific.

You can read the rest of this week’s security report here. To receive this newsletter in your inbox every week, sign up here.

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