Iran and Saudi Arabia: How We Can Build Peace Together


by Samira Nasirzadeh and Eyad Alrefai

Relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have rarely been worse, regarding the attacks on the oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman – for which both sides blame each other. Nevertheless, in the history of relations between the two countries, there have been regular shifts between tension and rapprochement – and things can change for the better once again.

As an Iranian and a Saudi, working as research fellows for peace studies, we believe it is time that our two countries seek to manage the conflict, improve their dialogue and begin the peace building process. And we are hopeful that this could happen.

But how? Peace cannot be achieved overnight; it requires a range of factors to strengthen diplomatic ties and decrease the level of enmity between the two states. First, we suggest both states’ politicians soften the language in their speeches, altering the hostile rhetoric to a more moderate one. This would open new paths towards a direct and constructive dialogue, reducing the tensions that are affecting the two countries, the region and, potentially, the world.


Direct dialogue between the two regional actors could launch negotiations that may lead to more stability in the region. The existing regional turmoil has had a detrimental impact on relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen. The [Yemen war], which has caused a [dramatic humanitarian crisis], remains one of the main areas of conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but it also offers ground for talks between the two states.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran agree that the conflicts in Yemen and Syria can only be ended through the implementation of political, rather than military, solutions. If Saudi Arabia and Iran can take steps toward political compromises in Syria and Yemen, this subsequently will reflect positively on the trust building process.

While Saudi Arabia relies on its strategic Western allies and its ever-increasing military expenditure, Iran, which has been isolated by the US, prefers a more regional approach. Indeed, Saudi Arabia may have to ignore US protests to sit down at the negotiating table with Iran.

But the will for closer ties is, perhaps, there. Indeed, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, declared on March 13, 2018:

We believe that security of our neighbors is our security and stability within our neighborhood is our stability. I hope they [Saudi Arabia] have the same feeling and I hope that they come to talks with us for resolving these problems. There is no reason for hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, we tell the Saudis that you cannot provide security from outside of the region.

Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, also recently stated in an interview that his country “does not want war with Iran, but will not tolerate what it considers hostile Iranian activity in the Middle East”.

Suspicions clearly remain, but such pronouncements could be viewed as a pause in hostilities, a turning point that could bring both sides closer together to resolve tensions.

There are also domestic reasons for a reduction in tensions, with both states building strategic plans for the future. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has embarked on an ambitious socioeconomic plan to diversify the country’s economy by curbing its historic dependency on oil and challenging conservative social constructs and norms by unshackling society from some past constraints. In a state where most of the population is under the age of 30, Vision 2030 serves as a mega project that will lead the country to modernize economically and socially.

The same goes for Iran. The country has adopted a promising strategic plan called the 20-Year National Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran which has social, economic, and political objectives. But to be successfully implemented, both countries’ strategies will need stable societies and vibrant economies which cannot be attained in a hostile neighborhood. Integration and cooperation will be essential.

Diplomacy Is the Solution

It is evident that Saudi Arabia and Iran will benefit more from direct dialogue than hostile rhetoric. Through discussing and working together on domestic, regional and international issues, it is in the interests of both states – and the wider region – to reduce conflict and increase cooperation through diplomatic ties.

The gradual shift from hostile to inclusive rhetoric by politicians is a helpful first step, but it is also necessary for Saudi and Iran to take practical action in their bilateral relationship.

It is expected for states to compete in their sphere of influence, but pragmatism must prevail if both countries want to put an end to their conflicts in the region.

Samira Nasirzadeh and Eyad Alrefai and PhD research fellows at Lancaster University. Reprinted, with permission, from The Conversation.

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  1. Ayatollahs cannot build peace with the Iranian people, let alone anyone else, especially Saudi Arabia. They are all going to end up in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, after Iranians will remove them non-violenty. After that the Iranian nation will establish respectable relations with all humane societies.

  2. Samira Nasirzadeh and Eyad Alrefai

    Diplomacy is the art of mitigating risks.

    On Syria and Yemen, the risks have been realized and war has been joined.

    There is, in fact, no political solution that does not involve total defeat for one side or the other; regardless of what Iranian and Saudi diplomats state.

    In Syria, Saudis have been defeated and in Yemen they will be partly defeated once Yemen breaks into 2 parts.

    In Persian Gulf, Iraians and Saudis might be able to practice diplomacy, if SA be willing as well as US.

  3. Very good and hopeful article Samira Nasirzadeh and Eyad Alrefai. Hopefully both of you are right in your projection and credit to both of you for trying. IMHO though, it is somewhat wishful thinking. Almost the entire region, minus a couple of nations regarding the region are politically naive and subservient to the foreign power. Therefore they are very susceptible to being manipulated by the foreign power politically and economically easily. This has been one of the characteristics and major weaknesses of some nations in the region because not only some neighbors refuse to talking to their immediate neighbors they’re also extremely suspicious of their neighbor which is forcing them to keep theirs guards up at all times. The unification of the ME region is NOT permitted by the imperialism and it’s so easy to use the saying “divide and conquer” at no serious costs to The imperialists!


    ” The unification of the ME region is NOT permitted by the imperialism”, and thank God for that.

    Some of us have no wish to be unified with Afghans, Pakistanis, Southern Persian Gulf Arabs, Jordanians, Egyptians Uzbecks etc.

  5. @ARHAZIAN, many thanks to you and your God!
    It’s great that your Gad wishes for separation and wars amongst those states in the region until eternity!
    I guess the EU has a better God since they are trying to be unified as much as possible!

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