Even at the peak of the internal conflict between Gulf states, none of the six Member States withdrew from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) they had collectively founded in 1981. Ambassadors kept representing their states, and GCC staff kept working in the headquarters throughout the period of estrangement, in a reflection of Member States’ keenness not to burn all the bridges and to keep the GCC as a primary line of defense of their higher interests.
A significant part of the Riyadh Summit declaration, issued on 14 December, was dedicated to discussing external threats, albeit without naming any specific entity. The declaration spoke of countering threats and unifying the political rhetoric “by unifying political stances and developing political partnerships at both the regional and international levels.”
The declaration reminded of Article 2 of the Joint Defense Agreement, which considers any attack on one of the Member States an attack on all Member States, and any threat to one of them as a threat to all.” The declaration underlined “the importance of concerted efforts to coordinate the foreign policies of Member States and ensure their complementarity.”
The Al-Ula Summit, held in Saudi Arabia in January 2021, had cleared the atmosphere between Member States after the fallout. Then came Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent visit to Gulf countries to pave the way for the agreement that was concluded in this latest summit.
The question remains as to how Gulf governments will respond to any potential Western agreement with Iran following the current negotiations.
The main challenge that lies ahead for Gulf states is to put an end to individual action and unify their stances on how to deal with the Vienna negotiations and their outcomes, regardless of whether these talks succeed or fail. The comprehensive nuclear deal that Western powers and Iran signed in the Swiss city of Lausanne in 2015 had uncovered shocking surprises for the countries of the region, particularly GCC states. Later, the deal hit an impasse, and the two parties returned to the negotiating table to try, once again, to resolve their dispute, which gave states in the region another opportunity to ensure they are not discounted, as happened in the previous deal.
In fact, any alternative agreement that fails to account for the security interests of the region’s countries could pose a threat to them all, but particularly to Gulf states, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. The danger lies in that Iran will have a nuclear weapon should the negotiations fail, but will be let loose to invade the region with its traditional weapons should the negotiations succeed. At the end of day, everyone dreads mounting tensions and escalation in the region, regardless of whether or not the deal engenders these circumstances.
Among all the entities of the Arab world, the bloc of Gulf states is the most concerned with political and military readiness. As such, it is well aware that unified stances and coordinated diplomatic action are the fastest path to cement its influence and power. Today, the landscape in Riyadh suggests that a unified Gulf rhetoric is imminent. In the midst of all the conflicting signals from Vienna, Washington, and Tehran, the coming few weeks will be crucial for us.
The Gulf proposition is mistakenly seen as opposing the nuclear deal, but that’s not the case. Instead, the Gulf considers this deal an incomplete solution, for it endorses the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Iran –which Gulf states had shouldered along with most of the world’s countries– without forcing Tehran to halt its destabilizing military operations in the region and all the wars and miseries it sparked.
GCC states have clearly shown their willingness to positively take part in a political solution, so long as such a solution puts an end to chaos and achieves stability in the region.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.