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How China's Iran-Saudi Diplomacy Stunned The World — Starting With Washington

The move is seen as a coup for China in its efforts to assert itself as a global superpower, while also presenting itself as a responsible and peaceful nation in the eyes of the non-Western world. The agreement is expected to help reduce tensions in the region and revive hopes for peace in Yemen, where the two countries have been fighting a proxy war.

Photo of Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman Chinese President Xi Jinping shaking hands.

A 2016 file photo of Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Pierre Haski


PARIS — There is the agreement itself, and there are the circumstances surrounding the agreement. Saudi Arabia and Iran had severed diplomatic ties in 2016 after the execution of a Saudi Shiite leader. The restoration of relations between these two rival Middle East powers is therefore no small feat.

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But even more intriguing, more spectacular, and totally unexpected is the role played by China. For it was in Beijing that Friday's agreement was signed. The photo of China's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, surrounded by the Saudi and Iranian ministers, in front of a large Chinese painting in Beijing, attests to a world that has suddenly changed.

This is undoubtedly the first time that China has taken on the role of mediator in the Middle East, a stance that has electrified the region and beyond since the announcement of the agreement.

Among the most shocked is the United States, once the exclusive protector of Saudi Arabia, and Israel, which had been slowly shaping its relationship with Riyadh toward a shared stance against Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

Raisi in Beijing

For Beijing, in the midst of a new cold war with the United States, this is a diplomatic coup: China displays both its superpower status in an area where it was not expected, and presents itself as a responsible and peaceful nation, which is good for its image in the non-Western world.

The real role played by China in the negotiations is unknown, beyond providing the framework for the final stage, that of the signature. But what is interesting is to understand why both Iran and Saudi Arabia accepted this Chinese sponsorship. Each has its own reasons.

Iran, under U.S. sanctions, is emerging from its isolation and forging closer ties with Russia and China. The rapprochement with Moscow was manifested by the delivery of drones used against Ukraine. But not enough attention was paid to the visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Beijing last month, a prelude to this agreement.

Photo of Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban (L), Saudi Arabia's Minister of State, Wang Yi (C), director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee and Admiral Ali Shamkhani (R), Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, in Beijing on March 10, 2023.

Top diplomats of Saudi Arabia, China and Iran for the signing ceremony in Beijing on March 10, 2023.

Luo Xiaoguang via ZUMA Press

Shuffling of cards

For its part, Saudi Arabia has been playing a more subtle game since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. It has emancipated itself from American tutelage, refusing Joe Biden's request to increase oil quotas, before the surprise rolling out the red carpet for Xi Jinping.

The Chinese leader was certain to be the first to shake hands with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when Westerners were boycotting him after the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But there is also a more lasting reshuffling of cards, linked to the mid-sized powers on the planet.

What does this agreement change? It reduces tension between these two countries, which have been on the brink of war more than once. Its first effect should be to revive hopes for peace in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and Iran have been waging a proxy war.

Iran should also abandon its threats to its neighbor, such as when it bombed oil installations in 2019.

But what about Iran's nuclear program, which is dangerously close to the critical threshold of uranium enrichment? And what about other fronts of Iranian activity in the region, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon...?

The agreement raises as many questions as answers it provides. But it has achieved its first objective: to surprise, and to signify to the West that the world has changed.

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The Last Boss: Messina Denaro's Death Marks The End Of An Era For The Sicilian Mafia

Eight months after being arrested, following 30 years on the run, Matteo Messina Denaro died Monday. The son of a mobster and successor of Sicily's notorious boss of bosses, he had tried to transform Cosa Nostra into a modern criminal enterprise — with only partial success.

photo of Matteo Messina Denaro

Matteo Messina Denaro after his arrest

Carabinieri handout via ZUMA
La Stampa Staff

Updated Sep. 25, 2023 at 4:45 p.m.


PALERMO — Matteo Messina Denaro, who for more than a decade was the Sicilian Mafia's "boss of bosses," died on Monday in an Italian hospital prison ward. His death came eight months after being captured following decades on the run as a fugitive from justice. His arrest in January 15, 1993, came almost 30 years to the day after Totò Riina, then the undisputed head of the Corleone clan, was captured in Palermo.

Tracing back in time, Messina Denaro began his criminal ascent in 1989, around the first time on record that he was reported for mob association for his participation in the feud between the Accardo and Ingoglia clans.

At the time, Messina Denaro's father, 'don Ciccio', was the Mafia boss in the western Sicilian city of Trapani — and at only 20 years of age, the ambitious young criminal became Totò Riina's protégé. He would go on to help transform Cosa Nostra, tearing it away from the feudal tradition and catapulting it into the world of would-be legitimate business affairs.

For 30 years he managed to evade capture. He had chosen the path of ‘essential communication’: a few short pizzini - small slips of paper used by the Sicilian Mafia for high-level communications - without compromising information by telephone or digital means.

“Never write the name of the person you are addressing," Messina Denaro told his underlings. "Don’t talk in cars because there could be bugs, always discuss in the open and away from telephones. Also, take off your watches.”

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