Saudi Arabia, Iran and the complexity of conflict mediation

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This article is featured in Orient IV/2023.

In early March 2023, years of back-channel diplomatic efforts reached a zenith as Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to normalise relations with each other. Seven years after relations were suspended following the fallout from the execution of the Saudi Shi’a cleric Nimr al-Nimr, the normalisation agreement set out a process of re-opening diplomatic missions and create the conditions for greater collaboration.1 Reached after years of track II efforts, the agreement was heralded as a major step towards building peace across the Middle East. Yet it is not a panacea for conflict, but rather is a necessary part of a portfolio of moves to improve regional relations. In this short essay I reflect on the ways in which the normalisation agreement may contribute towards peace-building and mediation efforts across the Middle East.

Simon Mabon is Professor of International Politics at Lancaster University, where he directs SEPAD (Sectarianism, Proxies and Desectarianization Project). He is the author and editor of 12 books including The Struggle for Supremacy in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Iran (Cambridge University Press, 2023); Houses built on sand: Sectarianism, revolution and violence in the Middle East (Manchester University Press, 2020); British Foreign Policy Since WWII (Routledge, 2016); The Origins of ISIS (IB Tauris, 2016); and Saudi Arabia and Iran: Soft Power Rivalry in the Middle East (IB Tauris, 2013). He has published 45 articles and book chapters in a range of Middle East and International Relations journals, including: Review of International StudiesMiddle East JournalMiddle East PolicyBritish Journal of Middle East StudiesPolitics, Religion and Ideology; and Third World Quarterly. From 2016 to 2017, he served as academic advisor to the House of Lords International Relations committee report into the UK’s relations with the Middle East. He regularly consults with governmental agencies and for international news outlets, including the BBC, CNN, CNBC, Sky, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiyya, France 24 and Deutsche Welle.

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