Why Saudi Arabia reluctant to negotiate with Iran?

Alwaght– Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi deputy crown prince and defense minister, in an interview which was conducted by Bilal Saab, a Middle East expert at the Foreign Affairs magazine, commented on the outlook of Saudi-Iranian relations and if Riyadh was optimistic about opening of diplomatic doors with Iran, saying that the two countries shared no point to negotiate about.

Bin Salman, dubbed as “Mr. Everything” of the Al Saud ruling family said that there was no way to negotiate with Iran, accusing the country of export fueling terrorism and violating other states’ sovereignty. He added that if Tehran does not review its approach, Saudi Arabia, once decides to work with Iran, will suffer damages.

These remarks by bin Salman, which are seen as a kind of blameshifting and escaping the existing realities, indicate that the Saudis are not interested in talks with Iran in the present conditions. Regardless of effects of the separate multiple factors, the reason can be found in two major drives:

1. Iran’s upper hand in the regional developments

The key factor affecting Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to open diplomatic doors and positively respond to Iran’s call for dialogue lies in the Iran’s superiority in the region. The field developments of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon are moving in a direction which guarantees a relative Tehran win over its rival Riyadh. In such circumstances, it is natural that the Saudis reject talks. Because any negotiations for Saudi leaders mean acceding to the Iranian sway in the Arab world, which in no way is in favor of the kingdom. Saudis have been struggling to block Iran’s presence in the Arab world through blocking loopholes of influence and so raising the costs of such presence for the Islamic Republic. Therefore, any talk of dialogue in the current conditions in which the kingdom sees itself empty-handed in the face of Iran is seen practically irrational and a strategic mistake for Saudi Arabia.

2. Ongoing crisis in regional hotspots

The second reason is vagueness of regional crises’ future. In fact, because Iraq, Syria, and Yemen– three of them standing as competition fields of Iran and Saudi Arabia– are immersed in conflict and chaos, and their future remains unclear, they cannot be subjects of a Tehran-Riyadh negotiation. Especially that the Saudis are hopeful that as long as war is under way in these three nations, they can undermine Iran’s superiority and be used s as a bargaining chip in any future mutual dialogue. In fact, in such an atmosphere there is a chance of pairing and so relatively breaking the rival’s ascendancy.

Meanwhile, the Saudi rulers, particularly Mohammed bin Salman, who has so far declined to take clear stance on Iran, began to resort to frequently-made claims. They label the Iranian influence and presence in Iraq and Syria, which is majorly defensive and comes at the behest of these two countries’ governments, as Tehran’s moves for exporting its revolution’s ideology, supporting terrorism, and destabilizing the region. These Saudi claims come while many of the Western countries now acknowledge Saudi Arabia’s role and place as a bastion of radicalism and fundamentalism of the hardliner Salafis. They admit that Riyadh’s financial, spiritual, and military backing for the groups in Iraq, Syria, and other places are the major triggers of chaos and crisis across the region.

So the Saudis should buy the strategic fact that Iran cannot be a passive and neutral side of the regional West Asian order. Because aside from the elements and requirements that urge Iran to act as a regional power,  its geopolitical boundaries go beyond its geographical borders, not to mention its doctrine which is bound to Islam, Shiite sect, and its culture.