Tuesday 21st of March 2023


Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore ties in China-brokered deal

After seven years of tension, Riyadh and Tehran will reopen embassies and revive a 2001 security agreement

Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed on Friday to resume diplomatic ties and re-open embassies within the next two months. Relations between the Sunni kingdom and the Shia republic broke down in 2016, and the two powers have backed opposing sides in multiple regional conflicts.

The agreement came after several days of talks in Beijing. As a result of the negotiations, both countries agreed to reopen their embassies “within a period not exceeding two months,” and to commit to “non-interference” in each other’s internal affairs, according to a joint statement by Saudi, Iranian, and Chinese officials. 

Additionally, Riyadh and Tehran said they would resume a security cooperation agreement signed in 2001, and would work to enhance “regional and international peace and security.”

Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016, after protesters stormed its diplomatic outposts there following the kingdom’s execution of a prominent Shia scholar several days earlier.





US and Saudi policies diverge over YemenRiyadh wants to exit its Yemen quagmire and is willing to end the siege on Ansarallah-controlled areas. Washington will have none of that, and is sabotaging a Saudi-Yemeni peace deal. BY Ahmad Al-Hasani 

The United States has played a crucial role in supporting the Saudi-led war on Yemen since its inception in 2015. However, after eight years of war and dramatic geopolitics changes that have taken place in Yemen, West Asia, and the world, Washington’s goals have now diverged from those of its Saudi client state.

For decades, Washington treated Yemen as Saudi Arabia’s backyard. The only exception to this rule was in 1994 when former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh put an end to the country’s civil war in collusion with the US, and without the consent of Saudi leaders, who backed southern separatists.

Outside of this occasion, Riyadh has been left to do with Yemen as it pleases, constantly interfering in the country’s internal processes by overthrowing governments, appointing officials, and manipulating tribal conflicts.

During this era, Washington more than once intervened in Yemen militarily, either to “combat terrorism” or to curb the rise of the Yemeni army in coordination with the Saleh regime. Before the start of the Saudi invasion, the US also kept its grip on Yemen to secure the flow of the five million or so barrels of oil that passed through the Bab al-Mandab Strait each day.

But once the Saudi invasion started, Washington played a pivotal role behind the scenes to help Riyadh achieve its military objectives quickly. US planners provided the Saudis with a full spectrum of equipment and services: precision weaponry, military and logistical support, and critical satellite imaging.

Between 2010 and the 2015 onset of the Yemen war, the US sold just $3 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Between 2015 and 2020, that number skyrocketed to an astounding $64.1 billion – not including the equivalent increase in weapons sales to Saudi allies in the Yemen war, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

However, the Yemeni resistance soon proved to be a more capable opponent than either the coalition or its western sponsors expected. As one US official described it, under Saudi leadership, the war had come to resemble “riding a bus driven by a drunk.” As the quagmire deepened, the US swooped in to intervene directly in the war by partnering with the UAE to gain control of Yemen’s southern provinces and its western coast.

The start of the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen in March 2015 came just months after Ansarallah forces captured Sanaa and ousted the western-friendly government during the 21 September revolution. The war was also launched just a few months before Iran and western powers signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Fearing this step could jeopardize US support for the kingdom, Riyadh rushed into war, dragging its allies along with it – safeguarding security agreements as well as arms and logistical deals with US companies.

The US was not a reluctant co-conspirator. Washington’s support for the war would provide an unprecedented boost to domestic arms sales and to the logistical services that US companies perform for the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces (SAAF), contracts that far exceed the value of arms sales.

Above all, and in complete lockstep with Riyadh, Washington had a strong interest in preventing Ansarallah from taking control of Yemen and transforming it into a stable, independent state that could project influence in the Persian Gulf region.

But despite the US’s initial drive to help the kingdom regain control of Yemen, as the years passed and the civilian death count mounted – and as Ansarallah improved its offensive capabilities, launching missile attacks on both Saudi and Emirati cities and infrastructure – Washington began to exert pressure on the kingdom to reach a truce agreement, with one caveat: Any truce must guarantee the continued besiegement of the northern Yemeni areas under Ansarallah control.

To this end, Washington appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Gulf Affairs Tim Lenderking as its special envoy for Yemen. His efforts to promote peace, however, did not stray too far from the old US talking points about the “growing power” of ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Yemen. And Lenderking continued to push back against genuine Yemeni stability and independence that could compete with Saudi Arabia and upset the balance of power in the region.

The US last year supported the unconstitutional appointment of a so-called Transitional Presidential Council (TPC) that took over from ousted president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was booted from his position by Saudi leaders who grew frustrated with his backdoor maneuvers.

It also supported the establishment of a “unified force” affiliated with the Council’s Ministry of Defense, despite knowing the force’s internal divisions presented a ticking time bomb that would, in time, explode and create a failed state ruled by competing militias.

Despite their common interests, the US and Saudi Arabia do not share consensus on all things Yemen, and their respective visions diverge in some important ways. The most significant US priorities are:

Fighting terrorism: The US intensified its presence in Yemen under the pretext of combating terrorism after the 2000 al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole guided missile destroyer off the coast of Aden. Washington signed security agreements with the Saleh government to open US intelligence stations in Sanaa and Aden, and to deploy military units in the Al-Anad and Daylami bases.

When Al-Qaeda increased its activities in Yemen after 2011, the US military role grew as well with at least 5,000 troops deployed to the country. Washington also allocated $250 million per year for the Yemeni Defense Ministry to combat armed groups. This lasted until 2014, when Ansarallah took control of Sanaa, pushing the US to rely on the UAE for its so-called anti-terrorism project.

US-Emirati coordination: Security and political coordination between Abu Dhabi and Washington in Yemen grew over the years after the Emiratis replaced the Saudis in several regions of the country. In the UAE, the US found a useful tool for several of its indirect plans. This on top of the UAE’s newfound alliance with Israel, as the two nations have been working in tandem in the strategic Yemeni islands of Socotra and Mayon.

International navigation protection: The US established the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) alongside 33 countries to secure water routes in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden and to protect oil tankers passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait coming from the Gulf countries. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, is also active along Yemeni territorial waters, and has repeatedly claimed to have confiscated weapons shipments from Iran headed to Ansarallah-controlled ports.

Dividing Yemen: The vision for Yemen truly starts to diverge between the US and Saudi Arabia when it comes to the country’s future political layout.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia – which envisions an outcome in which Yemen either remains as a strong centralized state loyal to Riyadh, or divided into six autonomous regions governed under the umbrella of a central state – Washington, like Abu Dhabi, supports a division of the country.

In the latter scenario, Ansarallah would be allowed to maintain the northern areas it currently controls, while the rest of Yemen would be divided into four independent regions (Aden, Hadramout, Marib, and the western coast). The US envisions this division as a strategy to marginalize Ansarallah and limit its clout to a specific geographical area, bordered by four warring mini-states, united in their hostility to Sanaa.

In January, Saudi Arabia held talks with Ansarallah in Sanaa and Sadaa, where the two parties agreed to expand on the terms of the UN-brokered truce that was signed in April 2022.

The Saudis also agreed to meet Ansarallah’s humanitarian-related demands, which include the easing of an air (Sanaa airport) and naval (Hodeida Port) blockade that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine. The new terms also include reinstating salaries for Sanaa government employees that were frozen for seven years.

According to sources in the Yemeni capital, it is US intervention that prevented Saudi Arabia from putting this new agreement into action. The Saudis spilled the beans to their Yemeni negotiating partners when they said “our partners oppose expanding the truce” – and they weren’t talking about the UAE.

As the war approaches its eighth anniversary, neither the US nor Saudi Arabia have diverged in their mutual desire to keep Yemen weak and mired in crisis so as to prevent Ansarallah from playing a larger role within the region’s resistance axis.

But despite the brutal siege imposed on Yemen, the Yemeni army has significantly boosted its offensive capabilities and qualitative military advancements, forcing the kingdom to seek an exit from hostilities in order to protect Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious national economic projects – and save face over his Yemen losses.

That is Riyadh’s current internal priority. Whereas, the US, thousands of miles away from the fight, continues to insist on keeping Yemen’s conflict in play to use as leverage for its broader regional strategies. This includes exploiting the war’s catastrophic humanitarian consequences to increase domestic pressure on Ansarallah.

In short, by drawing out the existing truce ad infinitum – but only under the provision that the economic blockade of Yemen continues – ending the war is not part of Washington’s plan.






territorial mischief created by the american empire in the middle-east and eastern europe......








The Australian retreat from Asia is becoming a rout



Eleven years ago I gave the speech below. I was then pessimistic about our understanding of Asia. The situation has got markedly worse since then, writ large in the unremitting attacks on China stemming from ignorance and parochialism, particularly in our White Man’s Media.



We are so used to being told and doing what Washington wants that we find it hard to make up our own mind on what is in our national interest. And our failure to think for ourselves is going to become even more critical with a new player in our region, China which is going to grow in influence.

The current hysterical anti-Chinese rhetoric in Australia is not so surprising. Our media and business sectors are seriously ignorant of our region .

We will not find “security within our region”, as Paul Keating put it, without knowing Asia much better. We are over-informed and seduced by American power and influence but for most Australians Asia is a closed book.

Since our settlement as a small, remote “white” English-speaking community, we have been afraid of Asia and its large populations. We have clung to remote global powers for protection — Britain and now the United States. Some are working to find a way out of this fear of Asia, but our fear keeps raising its head and is easily exploited by opportunists.

  • We have broken the back of White Australia, but it keeps coming back, particularly since the time of John Howard and Pauline Hanson. Tony Abbott’s and Scott Morrison’s campaign to demonise asylum seekers is really a proxy for a campaign on race. Donald Trump sings from the same racist inspired hymn sheet
  • The campaign against Chinese investment, is really a replay of the hostility to Japanese investment 30 years ago. It is time we grew up. In the 1980s our media was full of hostility to Japanese investment: “The local community begins to feel Japanese are not playing fair and square” (AFR April 7, 1988); “A single piece of seamless fabric — companies interwoven with government” (SMH May 23 1987); “Japan’s 20 biggest companies could buy the entire state of NSW using just one year’s profits” (SMH May 23 1987). This is despite the fact that Japan and more recently China have a quite small proportion of the stock of foreign direct investment in Australia.

Gone on smoko

  • It seems counter-intuitive when one considers the Asian presence — students, visitors and trade. But we are probably less Asia-ready than we were 20 years ago.
  • In the 1980s and early 1990s at the time of the Garnaut report we were making progress in such areas as Asian language learning, media interest in Asia and cultural exchanges, but we have been “on smoko” for the past 20 years.
  • Asian language learning and education funding at university are in relative decline.
  • The national policy on Asian languages adopted by the Hawke government and COAG has run into the sand.
  • Most Asian language learning is in crisis. French language learning is more popular. It may help tourists reading menus in Paris but it is not much help in our region.
  • The Australia media is still embedded in our historical relationships with the UK, and the US. News items from Asia tend to be the weird, the funny and the menacing. Aussies in strife in Asia are a case of perpetual indulgence, particularly our drug runners in Bali.
  • The ABC does it better than other media, but it is still focussed on unimportant issues in London and New York although they may be important for US and UK readers. But we are not an island moored off London and New York.
  • Most of our reporting of Europe comes out of the UK accompanied by the usual English bias and invective towards Europe.
  • The Henry report on Australia and the Asian Century was expunged from the Prime Minister and Cabinet website by Tony Abbott.

Why did we go on smoko?

  • Change is always painful and the end of White Australia particularly with the Indo-Chinese program during the Fraser period, followed by the Hawke government’s economic restructuring was unsettling and painful for many. And Keating was no slouch either on change. = He became a true believer in Asia almost overnight. It was full throttle, a defence treaty with Indonesia and an Australian republic to signify that our future was no longer with a British monarch. In retrospect, we didn’t manage the change well enough.
  • An unsettled community provided an opportunity for Howard to reassure us that under his guidance we could be “relaxed and comfortable” again. Fear of Asia was engendered with dog whistling about Asian numbers and then boat arrivals. Howard was the big interruption in the process of Asian involvement and Asian literacy, although he tried to mend his ways in his later years as PM, particularly in relations with China.


But there is not only media failure. Our business sector has also failed us.

The business sector’s failure to skill itself for Asia has been a major barrier to developing Australia’s potential in the region and improving productivity in this country — something which the Business Council tells us about repeatedly. Business has not looked at its own performance — getting its own house in order.

I don’t think there is a chair, director or CEO of any of our top 200 companies who can fluently speak any of the languages of Asia. They show little interest in up skilling themselves. It is those awful unions that are to blame.

This lack of knowledge and understanding of Asia in corporations has meant that university graduates with Asian skills have not found the employment opportunities they hoped for. On the employment front, many of them ran into a dead end. In the 1990s I knew and encouraged many Australian young people who had acquired Asian skills. Unfortunately, they had to go offshore for work for example to Hong Kong or Japan, and work for multinational companies. What a loss! Australian employers just didn’t get it and the Australian taxpayer footed the bill.

Julie Bishop’s commendable New Colombo plan is likely to face similar problems with Australian companies showing little interest in employing young Australians as they return from their Colombo Plan experience in Asia.

Far too many Australian businesses opportunistically see Asia as customers of opportunity rather than partners. In the long-term trade and investment is about relationships of trust and understanding. That can’t be done through an intermediary or an interpreter. The tide of serious interest in Asia by our large corporations is at a very low ebb.

  • Survey after survey of Australian business show that most Australian businesses operating in Australia have little board and senior management experience of Asia and/or Asian skills or languages. The closest some Australian business executives get to Asia is the Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong. There are now tens of thousands of Australian-born citizens of Asian descent at our universities. These Australian-born young people are more likely to be recruited for their good grades and work ethic rather than their cultural and language skills. They may just drift off as they did in the 1990s.
  • It is obviously too late for chairs, directors and CEOs to acquire Asian language skills, but it is not at all clear that they are recruiting executives for the future with the necessary skills for Asia. It is hard to break into the cosy directors’ club. That club need a drastic shake up.
  • Maybe we don’t need an Asian language or indeed much business sophistication to dig up and sell iron ore and coal to very willing buyers, but we certainly do to sell wine, elaborately transformed manufactures and services, particularly tourism.
  • Tourism from Asia has boomed but we don’t get enough repeat business. We skip from one new market to another — first Japan, then Korea and now China. The Australian Tourist Commission spends a lot of money on marketing extravaganzas like Crocodile Dundee and Oprah Winfrey when it should be looking to improve the product. Too often the non-English speaking tour groups float around in Australia in a cocoon run by their own countrymen, shielded from Australians who should be employed to service them and help them with an enjoyable Australian experience.
  • Success in Asia requires long-term commitment but the remuneration packages and the demands of shareholders are linked to short-term returns. Corporate governance in Australia is failing to equip us for the Asian century.
  • Australian business people remain “male, stale and pale” with the same limited life experience and interest as the people they recruit.


China and the US — running with the hares and hunting with the hounds

As Malcolm Fraser pointed out very succinctly in his Whitlam Oration in 2012, “unconditional support (for the US) diminishes our influence throughout East and South-East Asia”. Telling the Chinese that they are our most valued trading partner while blocking their investments and accepting US Marines in Darwin to contain their influence is not sustainable. It is quite bizarre and quite contrary to developing sound relations with China that we think that we can “run with the hares and hunt with the hounds” like this. It will inevitably catch up with us.


Diplomatic initiatives

Diplomacy is about persuasion and the most effective approach to persuading someone else and gaining their cooperation is through offering an idea that satisfies their own interests without seriously prejudicing our own. There are very few people in Australia who have the faintest idea what, for example, Indonesia’s interests may be. When is the last time we heard a minister, politician or business leader talking about Indonesia in these terms? Indonesia is making great strides. Our portrayal of Indonesia is invariably about cattle, Australian drug runners in Bali and asylum boats.


Public sector

The Australian public service, particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (including Austrade), has done much better than the business sector. But it is nowhere good enough.Our diplomatic skills are in serious decline



Donald Horne in the 1960s said that “Australia is a lucky country run by second-rate people who share its luck”. That is still true. And most true of our businesses and media today.

The key is for Australia to be open… open to new people, new investment, new trade, new languages and new ideas. And stop deferring to Washington on almost all major issues.

There is a major new player in town, China, that is not going away.


We are both enriched and trapped by our Anglo-Celtic culture.


This was a speech delivered to the Asian Studies Association of Australia on July 13, 2012