Saudi Arabia-Iran relations 1929-2013

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research is a historical study of Saudi Arabia-Iran relations, covering the period from 1929 to 2014. These two countries are major players in the region, and as such have been engaged in both mutual confrontation and cooperation. The aim of this research is to study the events that have affected the bilateral relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran from a historical perspective. This research also illustrates key aspects associated with their relations during the period of study. It further aims to provide a clear understanding of events over the course of almost a century, to explain how and why Saudi-Iranian relations developed as they did; specifically, the diverse triggers that resulted in amicability or resentment. The objective of this research is to uncover possible means to improve this important regional bilateral relationship, to sustain the stability and security of the wider region.
This thesis contains six chapters, which evaluate both countries’ regimes, policy-forming processes and the historical events implicated in shaping their bilateral relations. The first chapter covers the period 1929 to 1979, illustrating the bilateral relations between the two nations and their respective impact on the region. The research then reveals the main impact of the Iranian revolution on the Saudi-Iranian relationship to have been heightened mistrust between the two nations. The revolution marked an end to cooperative diplomatic relations, creating a bitter rivalry between the two nations for power and influence in the region. As a consequence of post-1979 Iran’s regular regime change, from religious fundamentalists to reformers, this period witnessed some dramatic changes to perceptions of the country on the world stage. Hence, Chapters 2-6 are devoted to the post-1979 era. Chapter 2 provides a history of the Iranian revolution and the Saudi response to it, while Chapter 3 discusses the impact of the Iran-Iraq War and its impact on Saudi Iranian bilateral relations. After the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, and Chapter 4 discusses the resultant events that brought Saudi Arabia and Iran together once more to contain a common threat, in the form of the Saddam regime. Chapter 5 details the impact on Saudi-Iranian relations when reformists governed Iran after 1990. The reformists pursued differing approaches to the wider world, leading to a period of rapprochement that brought the two countries closer together, contributing to improved relations, albeit within certain limits. Chapter 6 provides a historical account of the wide range of events and regional issues that affected Saudi-Iranian relations during the period 2001 to 2014.
The study concludes that, from 1929 to the present, Saudi Arabia has not changed its stance on Saudi-Iranian bilateral relations; however, the regime change in Iran, from secular to conservative, resulted in significant changes to Iran’s position, leading to adjustments in its policy concerning bilateral relations.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMichael Kerr (Supervisor), Rory Miller (Supervisor) & Craig Larkin (Supervisor)

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