OBAMA’S GCC MEETUP
Are Gulf nations convinced?
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.