There’s an intriguing anomaly in global politics this Thanksgiving: Despite a summer of confrontation in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are exploring possible dialogue with Tehran and its allies about easing tensions in Yemen and elsewhere.
The gulf countries are more open to talks with Iran and its proxies partly because they’ve lost some of their former confidence in the United States as a reliable military protector. That’s one cost of President Trump’s erratic policy, in which he alternates tweets about bombing Iran with bromides about meeting with Iranian leaders. Confused gulf countries increasingly are hedging their bets, through diplomacy and greater reliance on Russia and China.
The United States, meanwhile, is pursuing its own sensitive dialogue with Iran, through a Swiss diplomatic channel, about a possible exchange of prisoners. At the top of Iran’s list is Masoud Soleimani, a scientist arrested last year in Chicago for allegedly attempting to export biological materials to Iran. The United States has a long list of prisoners for release in any swap. If the Swiss-brokered negotiations succeed, they could be the start of a broader U.S.-Iranian engagement.
The new diplomatic activity concerning Yemen was evident in a visit to Washington this week by Yusef Alawi Abdullah, the foreign minister of Oman, which has traditionally been a key intermediary between the United States and its allies and Iran.
He told me Tuesday, following a visit the previous day with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, that he was hopeful about a settlement of the war in Yemen because of recent talks between Saudi Arabia and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there. [Continue reading…]