Here are three ways in which a breakdown in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran complicates life for the United States.
The breakdown in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran complicates life for the United States, which has staked its hope for peace in the Middle East on these two rival powers playing nice.
While the U.S. tries to push both countries into helping end the war in Syria, the Obama administration is also banking on Iran fulfilling its obligations of a recently signed nuclear deal, and for Saudi Arabia to exercise restraint in the face of an agreement it sees as threatening.
According to foreign policy experts, the Obama administration’s response to the Saudi-Iran conflict, and how it approaches the related issues, will reveal a lot about how the U.S. views its role in the Middle East, and how it intends to engage with Shiite and Sunni Muslim powers in the future.
“I think this is an interesting moment of reflection because it gets at precisely the crux of the transformation the administration is trying to achieve,” said Ilan Berman, the vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council.
“The traditional role of the U.S. had been as an ally of the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. Under this administration, it has pivoted towards Iran and the Shiites in a substantial way. The way the U.S. responds to this dust-up speaks volumes to who this White House sees as a more reliable ally.”
The initial U.S. response to Saudi Arabia’s execution of a popular Shiite cleric, and the subsequent attack by Iranians of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, has been to offer mild criticism of both sides.
Indeed, the State Department has emphasized it is not taking sides, announcing that Secretary of State John Kerry had talked with both Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministers to defuse tensions. Saudi Arabia on Sunday decided to cut diplomatic ties with Iran, and Sudan and Bahrain followed suit.
More telling will be how the U.S. manages its relationship with Shia-led Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia in the coming months, and whether it can rely on either country to contribute to a safer Middle East.
In interviews with The Daily Signal, foreign policy experts revealed issues they will be watching.
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