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Our Expert Voices conversation on what comes next in Iran vs. Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-Iran rivalry is less an ancient religious conflict and more a modern geopolitical proxy war cloaked in ethnic (Arab vs. Persian) and sectarian (Sunni vs. Shia) garb. The two countries are on opposing sides of horrific conflicts—in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq—that have caused over a million civilian casualties, the greatest refugee crisis since WWII, and the proliferation of Sunni Jihadist groups such as ISIS and Shiite militias to counter them.

The most powerful man in each country—78-year-old Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and 31-year-Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)—are a study in contrasts. Khamenei is a deeply traditional cleric who cautiously rules a predominantly modern society; MBS has a modern outlook and bold ambitions but presides over a deeply traditional society.

The bottom line: Khamenei's death has been anticipated for over a decade, but it's equally plausible he and MBS will spend the next decade vying for preeminence in the Middle East. The cynicism of an autocrat who has ruled for 28-years, coupled with the assertiveness of a young leader eager to prove himself, means their rivalry is more likely to escalate rather than deescalate.

Other voices in the conversation:

Go deeper

Ro Khanna wary of Biden approach on Middle East

Rep. Ro Khanna. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images

An outspoken progressive Democrat is wary of President Biden’s approach to the Middle East, arguing it’s like “conceding defeat of the aspiration” to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Why it matters: A number of members of Biden’s own party dislike his Middle East strategy, as his administration signals the region is no longer the priority it was for President Obama and his predecessors.

Democrats eye reconciliation for immigration

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Comprehensive immigration reform is a pipe dream, but some Senate Democrats are hoping to tie key immigration provisions to the next big reconciliation push.

Why it matters: Immigration is one of the most controversial and partisan issues in U.S. politics, which is why the budget reconciliation process — which allows for bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes — is so attractive.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden meeting Quad amid own pivot toward Asia

Artists paint portraits of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in Mumbai, India. Photo: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

President Biden plans to meet this month with the leaders of Japan, Australia and India in a virtual summit of the so-called Quad, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: By putting a Quad meeting on the president’s schedule, the White House is signaling the importance of partnerships and alliances to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.