Region should embrace Saudi Arabia’s pioneering vision
Saudi Arabia continues to pursue a bold approach to foreign policy, both regionally and globally.
The Chinese-brokered Saudi Arabia-Iran agreement signed last month has curbed the long-simmering tensions between the two countries. This agreement supports the predictions of an end to the instability that has engulfed the region in recent years and was preceded by similar reconciliation deals with Qatar and Turkey. It has thrown a stone into the regional crises’ still waters, opening the door for diplomacy to navigate opportunities for transitioning from tensions to calm.
In this context, the two countries’ foreign ministers have held telephone conversations and set a date for a bilateral meeting to discuss practical steps to foster stability and reduce tensions. The agreement has also had an impact on other issues, with Riyadh launching talks with Syria to resume consular services in exchange for concessions that serve the Kingdom’s interests. These consecutive steps could be followed by others to resolve the complex crises troubling the region in a win-win situation for both nations. Frankly, the current steps could not have happened without the Kingdom’s will and determination to adopt a pioneering policy aimed at genuine, positive changes in the region.
The Kingdom has adopted a new vision to curb disputes and reset the regional compass in favor of development and cooperation, rather than chaos. This is based on a deeply held conviction in Saudi Arabia that the agenda of global powers has historically ignored and disregarded regional interests and failed to support its plans of development. It could be said that these powers have worsened regional crises.
Saudi Arabia has carried out its calculations without the influence of any external actors. In fact, the Kingdom’s vision could conflict with the interests of some global powers. Riyadh is moving forward with a more regionally oriented foreign policy that is more balanced and independent of global powers. In addition, it is free of the unnecessary and unwanted characteristics of polarization that have devastated the region.
This vision, which is at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s interests, was set by the country’s leadership in its Vision 2030, which asserts that the sustained prosperity of the Saudi people is the essential driver of the country’s foreign policy, as well as the prosperity and stability of the region. The Kingdom is implementing its bold new regional approaches based on significant domestic transformations.
Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan explained this when he said: “Saudi foreign policy cannot be understood independently of the remarkable shifts occurring inside the Kingdom at all levels. In recent years, the Kingdom has made progress on every level. The Kingdom introduced to the region a model for economic, social and cultural modernization at a time when the region is plagued with disputes, chaos and crises. It (Saudi Arabia) is the ideal model of a nation independent of the East and West. It is based on diversifying partnerships and building bridges with the world without restrictions or diktats. The Saudi model also embraces dialogue with all world powers, free from polarization and alignment.”
This approach has shown the Kingdom’s readiness to move boldly down the path of easing and defusing tensions to pave the way for a new era.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
One of the fruits of this policy is the flourishing Saudi economy, which has become the world’s fastest-growing economy. It now has a trillion-dollar gross domestic product for the first time. By 2030, the Kingdom aspires to be among the world’s 15 biggest economies.
The Kingdom seeks to make its model an example for others to follow to achieve a qualitative regional transformation — free from interventions and rivalries that foment disputes. This model is in line with the forward-looking vision for the region engineered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. From the very beginning, the crown prince has succeeded in creating a unique model that links his ambitious projects domestically with the region, forming a new regional vision.
This certainly means a radical positive shift, transitioning from crises and turbulence to stability, modernization and prosperity. The crown prince’s conviction and determination to achieve this vision enables the Kingdom to stand prepared with all its capabilities to support the regional renaissance project to benefit the region’s peoples.
As such, Saudi Arabia supports two parallel pathways. The first seeks to foster stability and ease tensions. This was evident in its restoration of diplomatic relations with Iran and invitation to the Iranian president. Subsequently, the country prepared to open a new chapter with the Syrian regime, paving the way for Syria to return to its Arab sphere, with the Kingdom serving as the key gateway. These steps are in addition to the mediation and other traditional roles played in the region by Saudi Arabia, such as the Saudi-led mediation efforts that will soon see Sudan emerge from its political crisis, not to mention the other endeavors to defuse crises and promote peace.
The second is the introduction of initiatives to promote regional prosperity and welfare. The Saudi vision is not confined to the resolution of crises; it also puts the region on a positive trajectory. The Kingdom believes that the growth of markets and national economies creates opportunities for implementing its vision — and vice versa.
Saudi Arabia is ready to establish an atmosphere of collaboration rather than destructive competition. For example, its Green Middle East Initiative is not merely about dealing with climate change. Rather, its core objective is to prepare the region for a post-oil age. It is a dynamic, forward-looking vision that will make the region a future supplier of renewable energy to the world, as it already is with oil.
This regional approach reflects the practical, pragmatic approach adopted by Saudi decision-makers. This approach has shown the Kingdom’s readiness to move boldly down the path of easing and defusing tensions to pave the way for a new era that will serve the region and its peoples. There is also no question that all parties are awaiting the Saudi initiative and its dynamic foreign policy to push the region toward stability. This includes ending the war in Yemen, restoring stability to Iraq, advancing the political process in Lebanon, resolving the differences between the parties to the crisis in Sudan, and putting an end to the proxy wars — in addition to tackling other threats to regional security and stability. All this would build on the Kingdom’s track record of effective efforts and on its proven vision, capabilities and instruments of influence to create the desired changes.
To conclude, it is safe to say that this is the first time in many years that the region has seen such a bold, earnest and responsible vision, which aims to positively change the reality and shape the future through an exclusively national and regional will. While the region is coming close to achieving the vision laid out by the crown prince, successfully bringing about this change — which has become inevitable for all parties — requires that the region’s leaders and governments follow in Saudi Arabia’s footsteps and embrace its vision, while avoiding turning healthy competition into another bootless dispute. The region’s countries should also show their full readiness to pay the costs necessary for achieving this change through abandoning outdated ideological alignments or efforts to circumvent the steps needed to pave the path toward peace and reconstruction.
Iran in particular should take advantage of this important opportunity offered by the Kingdom to end its regional isolation and polish its image. It should also rise to the occasion when it comes to serving the region’s interests and not repeat past mistakes or insist on exporting crises and pressing ahead with schemes to “export the revolution” and interfere in the affairs of other countries. Iran must take action to increase the confidence and trust of its regional neighbors.
Historical experience shows us that Iran failed to take advantage of the Saudi initiative proposed in the 1990s to pursue openness with it and to integrate and accommodate it as a major partner to the Gulf states. The Syrian regime and all the forces rotating in Iran’s orbit should realize that the Saudi vision has been adopted from a position of strength and that the path taken by the Kingdom is the path of survival for the crisis-ridden regional countries, enabling them to overcome challenges and crises and play a role in the future.
Any attempt by a regional or global power to breach the red lines set by Saudi Arabia will not deter it from using all possible means to defend its rights, as in the past. While peace and prosperity are always the preferred option and objective of the Kingdom, we remain resolute in defense of our beloved nation.
• Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah).