OBAMA’S GCC MEETUP

Are Gulf na­tions con­vinced?

Gulf Business - - FRONT PAGE - TEXT BY ROBERT AN­DER­SON

ON PA­PER IT was to be one of the most high pro­file meet­ings be­tween a US pres­i­dent and GCC lead­ers in re­cent years, but it wasn’t long be­fore seem­ingly dis­sat­is­fied heads of state damp­ened the pres­tige of the oc­ca­sion.

First it was Saudi Ara­bia’s King Sal­man, who phoned Barack Obama on Mon­day May 11 to “ex­press his re­gret” for miss­ing the high-pro­file end-ofweek sum­mit, in­stead nom­i­nat­ing Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Nayef in his place. Next Bahrain’s King Ha­mad fol­lowed suite – also send­ing his crown prince in his place due to a prior ap­point­ment at a horse show with Bri­tain’s Queen El­iz­a­beth, ac­cord­ing to a royal court state­ment.

Ru­mours, of course, be­gan to cir­cu­late that both lead­ers had snubbed the event due to their dis­sat­is­fac­tion with US-led ef­forts to reach a nu­clear deal with Iran. A no­tion quickly de­nied by the White House, which de­scribed the oc­ca­sion as a se­ries of work­ing meet­ings rather than a photo op­por­tu­nity.

Yet de­spite th­ese ini­tial set­backs, and the pres­ence of only two heads of state – Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim – from the sixmem­ber GCC, re­ac­tions fol­low­ing the May 15 meet­ing in­di­cated some de­gree of progress.

At a press con­fer­ence tak­ing place af­ter the sum­mit, GCC as­sis­tant sec­re­tary gen­eral Ab­del Aziz Abu Ha­mad Aluwaisheg said that the meet­ing “ex­ceeded the ex­pec­ta­tions of most of us,” ac­cord­ing to news site Al-Mon­i­tor. The of­fi­cial also ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion with the US side in its aware­ness of is­sues trou­bling the GCC na­tions and suc­cess at putting th­ese con­cerns to rest.

Sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment was seen on the US side, where Obama de­scribed the talks as “very frank and hon­est” in an

THE GCC STATES WERE NOT GIVEN ANY­THING IN WRIT­ING BUT I AM CER­TAIN THAT OBAMA RE­MINDED THE LEAD­ERS THAT THERE ARE AROUND 40,000 US MIL­I­TARY TROOPS STA­TIONED IN THE GULF RE­GION, NOT TO MEN­TION SEV­ERAL NAVY SHIPS WHICH ARE PA­TROLLING THE SHIP­PING LANES.”

in­ter­view with Saudi-owned tele­vi­sion. He sug­gested some progress had been made in re­as­sur­ing Gulf States that US-led ef­forts to reach a fi­nal deal to curb Iran’s nu­clear pro­gramme, by a June 30 dead­line, were in their in­ter­ests.

“The al­ter­na­tive is not to have any idea what is tak­ing place in­side of Iran and that is, I think, a much more danger­ous sit­u­a­tion for ev­ery­one in the re­gion,” he said.

How­ever, not ev­ery­one was con­vinced, with some ob­servers be­liev­ing more per­sua­sion will be needed.

“On the sur­face it seems that that might be so, but in the case of Saudi Ara­bia (in par­tic­u­lar) Obama might not have been com­pletely per­sua­sive,” said Kris­tian Alexander, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor, Col­lege of Sus­tain­abil­ity Sciences and Hu­man­i­ties, Zayed Uni­ver­sity. “The un­der­ly­ing dis­agree­ment goes back to a dif­fer­ence in threat per­cep­tions as well as na­tional in­ter­ests. The US is show­ing signs of mission fa­tigue while GCC states just do not trust Ira­nian in­ten­tions.”

In a joint state­ment the US said it was pre­pared to work jointly with the GCC to de­ter and con­front an ex­ter­nal threat to any GCC state’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity that is in­con­sis­tent with the UN Char­ter, in­clud­ing the po­ten­tial use of mil­i­tary force. Re­sponses to non-tra­di­tional threats in­clud­ing ef­forts to im­prove the spe­cial forces, in­tel­li­gence and an­ti­weapon smug­gling ca­pa­bil­i­ties of GCC states, as well as the devel­op­ment of a re­gion-wide bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fence, were also dis­cussed. “The GCC states were not given any­thing in writ­ing but I am cer­tain that Obama re­minded the lead­ers that there are around 40,000 US mil­i­tary troops sta­tioned in the Gulf re­gion, not to men­tion sev­eral navy ships which are pa­trolling the ship­ping lanes,” said Alexander.

Out­side the meet­ing’s key stick­ing point, con­sen­sus was also reached on re­gional con­flicts in Ye­men, Syria, Iraq and Libya. The US and GCC agreed there was “no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to the re­gions’ armed civil con­flicts,” the joint state­ment read, em­pha­sis­ing the need for peace­ful means, re­spect for all states’ sovereignty, non­in­ter­fer­ence in in­ter­nal af­fairs and in­clu­sive gov­er­nance.

When asked specif­i­cally about Iran’s al­leged in­volve­ment in the war in Ye­men, Al­waisheg was less pos­i­tive, how­ever, sug­gest­ing Tehran would need to stop deny­ing its role in the con­flict.

“If Iran says, ‘we’re not do­ing any­thing,’ it’s not hap­pen­ing,” he told

Al-Mon­i­tor. “The meet­ing would be ad­journed in one minute.” Should Iran show a will­ing­ness to ad­mit its in­volve­ment in re­gional con­flicts and help to ne­go­ti­ate dis­putes on sev­eral dis­puted is­lands in the Gulf, the GCC would be ready to open dia­logue, he said. Sum­maris­ing the meet­ing, Alexander said it was in a sense like re­new­ing a long-term re­la­tion­ship, “re­as­sur­ing the GCC that they can con­tinue to count on US sup­port whilst push­ing them to be­come more as­sertive in their own right.”

“Scep­ti­cism will re­main but for now GCC states are seem­ingly con­vinced that Obama is act­ing in good faith,” he said. Many will won­der how far this con­vic­tion will stretch if a US-led nu­clear deal is reached be­fore an agreed fol­low up meet­ing takes place next year.

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