China aims to follow up on its diplomatic success last week in negotiating an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
China is planning to host an unprecedented summit attended by senior officials from Iran and its six Arab neighbours of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), according to the Wall Street Journal.
The summit would take place in Beijing later this year, after Iran and Saudi Arabia have completed the process of re-establishing diplomatic relations, the United States-based outlet reported on Sunday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the plan.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Saudi Arabia in December where he reportedly pitched the summit to GCC leaders.
When Xi officially received Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Beijing last month, he tried to contain the fallout of a joint statement he had signed with the Arab leaders that called into question Iran’s ownership of three disputed islands and Tehran’s regional influence and nuclear and military programmes.
Raisi reportedly welcomed the proposal, but his administration is pursuing stronger economic ties with Beijing while expecting China to play a bigger role in deadlocked talks over restoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which the US unilaterally abandoned in 2018.
If China succeeds in getting the GCC states and Iran in one room for dialogue, it would signal another diplomatic victory after Beijing hosted last week’s talks that led to a surprise agreement on ending a seven-year rift between Tehran and Riyadh.
The two regional rivals agreed that their foreign ministers would meet within two months to reopen diplomatic missions and that the trilateral statement they signed with China committed them to implement two cooperation agreements they had signed over two decades earlier.
Iran’s foreign ministry has said embassies that were closed in 2016 will soon be reopened in Tehran and Riyadh, while consulate generals will be re-established in Mashhad and Jeddah.
The WSJ reported that as part of the agreement, Saudi Arabia agreed to tone down negative coverage by Iran International, a Persian-language television channel that Tehran believes is funded by the Saudi state and considers a “terrorist” organisation.
Iran International, which has repeatedly denied the charges of Saudi funding through its parent company Volant Media, last month moved its offices from London to Washington, DC citing threats to its staff.
Meanwhile, Tehran has reportedly agreed to stop encouraging cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia from Yemen by the Houthi movement, which it supports in the country’s war against a Saudi-led coalition that backs the internationally recognised Yemeni government.
Experts have cautioned that while a rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh is a positive development that could help reduce tensions across the region, building on it could prove challenging as a considerable level of distrust persists between the regional powerhouses.
For now, other stakeholders across the region have greeted the détente positively, while the US – which has been completely absent from the deal – has cautiously welcomed it.
The foreign ministries of Iran, Saudi Arabia and China have not commented on the specifics of the agreement signed in Beijing or the report by the WSJ.