What the Iran-Saudi Arabia Pact Means for U.S. Foreign Policy

By Ameer Mohra ’25

Ameer Mohra ’25

As China’s economic and political power expands, the world order is moving away from unipolarity and towards a bipolar balance of power. Economic growth has driven China’s rise for the past few decades, transforming it into a major global player in trade, finance and investment. The United States, on the other hand, has been grappling with a range of domestic and international challenges that have contributed to a perception of declining global influence. The pact between Iran and Saudi Arabia, brokered by China in March, has further sidelined the US and weakened its power in the Middle East.

The relationship between China, the US and Saudi Arabia is complex and multifaceted, with each player pursuing their own interests and agenda in the region. China has increasingly involved itself in the Middle East in recent years, driven by its growing demand for energy resources and its desire to expand its global influence. China is the largest importer of Middle Eastern oil, with much of its energy imports coming from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. At the same time, China has also been expanding its economic ties with Middle Eastern countries, investing heavily in infrastructure projects—including ports, railroads and pipelines—as part of its broader Belt and Road Initiative.

US-Saudi Arabia relations have been more complicated. Saudi Arabia’s association with the West started in World War Two when Saudi Arabia was an important source of crude oil for the Allies. In recent years, Saudi interference in the Civil War in Yemen, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, disagreements over Iran’s nuclear program and OPEC production cuts have complicated the relationship.

The recent negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which were facilitated by China, significantly heighten tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi economic situation has resulted in its foreign policy shift. Over the last decade, Saudi Arabia has developed an ambitious economic agenda to expand and diversify its economy beyond oil production. This economic transition is vital for Saudi Arabia’s future prosperity, as the country’s heavy reliance on oil revenue makes it highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the global energy market. Saudi Arabia’s proxy war with Iran in Yemen precipitated significant economic losses to Saudi Arabia and the recent restoration of relations with Iran is clear evidence of Saudi Arabia’s plan to become an economic powerhouse for innovation. This shift in Saudi policy has opened the door to Chinese influence as their economic interests increasingly align. 

This shift also affects US-Israeli relations. Unconditional diplomatic and military support has characterized the alliance between the US and Israel since Israel became a state in the 1940s. In the last few years, however, strategic disagreements regarding the Iranian nuclear program have shaken this relationship. Israel has pushed for more drastic political and economic measures to contain Iran; the US, on the other hand, has focused on diplomatic solutions like the Iran Nuclear Deal while continuing to level punitive sanctions on Iran.

The US must now consider how Israeli regional dominance is affected by the Iran-Saudi Arabian pact. Rather than recognizing the Iran-Saudi Arabia pact’s challenge to its security, Israel is currently more interested in expanding the Abraham Accords and normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Persian Gulf region, which has been the centerpiece of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy. Thus, even though the recent political developments affect Israel’s position in the region, Israel will do little to oppose it, as they have benefited more from cooperating with Arab countries than aggravating them.

In addition to Israel’s security, the US must reconsider its role in the Yemeni Civil War. The conflict in Yemen began in 2014 when Houthi rebels, a Shia Muslim group, took control of Sanaa, the capital city, and much of the northern part of the country. In response, a coalition of Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, launched a military campaign in 2015 to push back the Houthi rebels and restore the internationally-recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The Saudi-led coalition has received intelligence sharing, logistics and weapons sales from the US. However, the conflict has become increasingly controversial due to its devastating impact on civilians, including widespread hunger, disease and alleged war crimes. The recent talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran brought hope for a brokered peace in Yemen. The US must push for the end of these atrocities and war crimes.

The re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran holds immense potential for reshaping the political landscape of the Middle East. This pact could positively change the political structure of the middle east and bring an end to the long-standing Yemeni Civil War. To seize this opportunity, the US must offer constructive support and encouragement. Moreover, to maintain its political influence in the region, the US must also re-evaluate its policies towards Saudi Arabia and implement necessary changes to align with Saudi Arabia’s economic interests.