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    Saudi-Iranian Relations Deal: Security Forecast

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    On the 10th of March, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) issued a joint statement from Beijing. It proclaimed that after 4 days of secret talks in Beijing, Saudi Arabia and Iran had signed a deal that re-established relations between the two states [source]. This occurs 7 years after Saudi-Iranian relations broke over the 2016 mob attack on Saudi Arabia’s Tehran embassy [source]. 

    Key Judgement 1. The PRC is unlikely to commit security assets to the region despite its major intervention in the Saudi-Iranian conflict within the next 12 months.

    Key Judgement 2. Within the next 12 months, Saudi Arabia is highly likely to continue security overtures with the United States and try to maintain this relationship.

    Key Judgement 3. Iran is likely to develop a deeper economic relationship with the PRC within the next 12 months.

    K.J-1: The PRC is unlikely to commit security assets to the region despite its new involvement in Saudi-Iranian relation within the next 12 months.

    A.) The PRC has not moved to bring significant military assets to the Middle East previously. It has instead focused on selling arms to prospective partners in the region like Iran [source].

    B.) The PRC is unwilling to serve as a security guarantor in the region in the style of the United States. The PRC has preferred and continues to rely on primarily economic and diplomatic methods [source].

    C.) Reports released ahead of the forthcoming Sino-Arab Summit in Beijing with Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council preface it by outright claiming to not desire a military presence in the Middle East [source].

    D.) All aims from the PRC’s investments into the Middle East signal to be for the goal of cultivating support for itself on international fronts on matters of territory and its ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region [source].

    K.J-2: Within the next 12 months, Saudi Arabia is highly likely to continue security overtures with the United States and try to maintain this relationship.

    A.) Saudi Arabia continues to move towards a deal on normalisation of relations with Israel,  negotiated through the United States. It is leveraging this deal for security guarantees and nuclear program aid from the US [source].

    B.) Saudi Arabia remains one of the largest arms importers in the world. Its largest supplier of arms is the US, with a value of exports to Saudi Arabia twice that of every other arms exporter’s sales to the country [source].

    C.) Saudi Arabia remains reliant on the United States for security and continued arms supplies for the possibility of a renewed war in Yemen [source].

    D.) The relations deal, which has a two-month window to go into force, does not erase Saudi fears of a nuclear Iran, against which it sees the US as the most credible deterrent [source].  

    K.J-3: Iran is likely to develop a deeper economic relationship with the PRC within the next 12 months.

    A.) Iran announced a major set of economic deals with the PRC. This occured a day after the proclamation of the Saudi-Iranian relations deal [source].

    B.) Iran’s trading relationship with the PRC is one of the largest growing relationships for the Iranian economy. As Iran’s economy contracts from failing relationships with the EU, this lifeline makes the PRC an important partner [source].

    C.) President Ralsi of Iran has focused on developing a military relationship with the PRC, seeking to “counter unilateralism” [source].

    D.) The PRC has cooperated with Iran’s missile development program, providing materials such as guidance system technology [source]. 

    Analytical Summary: We are confident that the Saudi-Iran relations deal does not create pathways for Chinese military deployments into the Middle East. Nor does it cut deeply into US relations with Saudi Arabia yet. However, it reflects stronger Iranian ties with the PRC. We relied primarily on English and Farsi language sources. An alternative hypothesis included the possibility of stronger ties between Saudi Arabia and the PRC leading to degrading Saudi-US relations. If this were to occur, we would expect to see more dramatic responses from US State Department officials. The situation remains fluid. 

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 16 March 2023

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