The latest round of the P5+1 talks revealed the difficulties between all parties. The U.S., UK, French and German foreign ministers made unscheduled trips to Geneva to help push through the beginning of a deal, yet with little results. There were obviously serious differences between all sides, especially with the French delegation.
Interestingly, the French may be acting as Saudi Arabia’s representative at the P5+1 talks. Paris, of course, is regaining its firm position throughout the Middle East North Africa region and specifically in regards to the Levant question and the Iran file. When Riyadh rejected a non-voting seat at the United Nations Security Council, Paris quickly backed the kingdom. Now, at the P5+1, France may be representing Saudi views. Is this a coincidence?
Specifically, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated that “there is an initial text that we do not accept. There are several points that we are not satisfied with,” concerning the Arak heavy water facility and Iran’s stockpiles of 20 percent uranium. How can we go down to five percent enrichment that is less dangerous? If those questions will not be addressed it will not be possible [to reach an agreement]. I want a deal, but we have to be careful not to be played for fools.” These strong words indicated a dramatic leap backwards from the optimism up to and during the meeting. Even the Iranians complained about their opponents’ positions. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi claimed that his counterparts from the six powers “need constant coordination and consultation in order to determine [their] stances.” Subsequently, talks are to resume, reportedly on Nov. 20, 2013, in order to give some breathing space - most likely to the West.
At the same time, discussions illuminated progress in non-security areas. Sources in the United States claimed that Washington would consider “limited, targeted and reversible” relief on sanctions – but only after the Iranian nuclear program undergoes changes. These areas highlight a soft approach to gain trust by all parties. Rumors are circulating that a Tehran-New York air route may open soon.
Perhaps America is now recognizing the potential impact of its pro-Iranian policy on its Gulf alliesDr. Theodore Karasik
On Nov. 10-11, 2011, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Abu Dhabi to meet with senior UAE leaders. Kerry and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah discussed the Iran negotiations as they stand today. Kerry said that the strategic partnership between the United States and UAE are “very strong” and would not be affected by the ongoing talks on Iran’s nuclear program. Kerry apparently promised that sanctions will not be lifted until there is undisputed proof that Iran is making substantial and transparent changes to its nuclear program. Kerry reminded the audience that sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. Yet, Kerry noted strangely that the P5+1 “was united during the weekend talks in Geneva and it was the Iranians who were unable to accept” the proposals. Gulf sources are clearly skeptical and question the comment.
The UAE foreign minister responded pragmatically. He stated: “We have been in discussion and are satisfied on the development of these negotiations as well as the previous negotiations. We are also satisfied with the consultation, size and speed of these discussions, and we are discussing the future of these negotiations and ways to enhance the dialogue between the P5+1 and Iran and we hope that Iran will soon realize that it has no option but to be transparent and clear with its nuclear program.” Clearly, the UAE is being matter-of-fact in its perceptions of the ongoing discussions.
Nevertheless, the issue of the ongoing Iranian negotiations is upsetting other GCC states, taking them into new, uncharted territory. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains clearly distressed. Sources suggested that the Saudi National Security Council Secretary Bandar bin Sultan apparently wants to pull the kingdom out of any Geneva II negotiations regarding the Syrian peace talks because of the P5+1 negotiations. In an unusual step, Russian President Vladimir Putin called Saudi King Abdullah to discuss Bandar’s threat, among other issues. Consequently, these developments complicate the GCC’s outlook on the P5+1 as the talks on the Iranian nuclear program grow ever more intertwined with the Syrian situation.
Perhaps America is now recognizing the potential impact of its pro-Iranian policy on its Gulf allies. Kerry’s visit to the UAE is significant and timely to help instill confidence. But still, some GCC states are truly concerned that Washington is so fully focused on a deal between Iran and the United States, thinking that the Arabian Gulf will certainly turn out to be Persian, in the long run. Some sources are thinking ahead to what may become a new “Gulf Security Architecture” that includes Iran around the Gulf littoral. This concept, although not fully articulated yet, will certainly be a growing topic of discussion—and concern—to many GCC states, thereby pushing the GCC states to further distance themselves from the West in regards to Iran “as a security partner.” And perhaps such a move will create cleavages between the GCC states themselves.
Finally, the wildcard is France. Paris is playing a smart game and knows that the payoff in diplomatic and financial deals may see the Fifth Republic make substantial gains in the Gulf region. Paris is making advances in many of the GCC countries on the political and military levels; in business and in military deals to include potential maritime patrols. The key question now is how rivalry will play out within the P5+1. Are the United States and France working closely together? Will the GCC, and specific member states, go along with promises from these two countries? We will all know better very soon.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.