Why Gulf states need a voice at the P5+1

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Published: Updated:

The upcoming P5+1 meeting of Britain, China, France, Russia, U.S., and Germany to discuss Iran’s nuclear issue is causing discomfort in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, specifically Saudi Arabia. While Iran presented its newest proposals to the West regarding how to make Tehran's nuclear program more transparent in order to lift Western sanctions, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC are displeased they are left out of the negotiations and their interests are not represented. As a result, Saudi Arabia’s decided not to accept a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in protest.

The objection is rooted in the Saudi desire to see the UNSC, as an international security mechanism, reflect the new geopolitics of the Middle East. A discussion and ultimately a change in the players involved in Iran’s nuclear activity from the P5+1 to a “P5+GCC+1” would help to reduce anxiety that the Saudi Kingdom and the GCC are being ignored. Such a diplomatic move is likely also to boost Gulf Arab confidence that they are part of the solution instead of being marginalized while the West negotiates Gulf security concerns.

The P5+1 is a group of six world powers which joined the diplomatic efforts with Iran in regard to its nuclear program in 2006. The term refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, specifically the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, and Germany. The P5+1 is sometimes referred to as the E3+3 by European countries when Britain, France and Germany produce proposals to Iran.

Progress for the West, Setbacks for Saudi

In Geneva this past week, Iran's two-day meeting with the P5+1 ended a six-month halt after Tehran’s refused to restrain uranium enrichment in exchange for easing sanctions. Now Iran has put forward a new proposal to resolve the nuclear crisis that includes a freeze on production of 20 percent enriched uranium, a pledge to convert its stockpile to fuel rods and an agreement to relinquish spent fuel for an uncompleted heavy water reactor.

The present composition of the UNSC has been unchanged since 1965, created in a different era with clearly altered security priorities around the globe and specifically in the MENA region.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Underscoring the change in tone, senior Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi and his U.S. counterpart Wendy Sherman recently met, marking the first direct nuclear talks between the Islamic republic and Washington since 2009. Iran and the P5+1 are expected to hold talks on a technical level before the next full meeting in Geneva in a few weeks, on November 7-8, 2013. Overall, Iran’s new tone, and new face, with a confidential powerpoint presentation in English, is adding to a growing sense of dismay in Saudi Arabia and the GCC.

Iran’s overtures to the West, and vice versa, on the nuclear weapons program are anathema to Saudi Arabia and the GCC. As such, the Saudis struck back hard at the United Nations by declining a rotating seat on the UNSC. Specifically, the Kingdom called for the UN to be reformed: “Work mechanisms and double-standards on the Security Council prevent it from carrying out its duties and assuming its responsibilities in keeping world peace. Therefore Saudi Arabia…has no other option but to turn down Security Council membership until it is reformed and given the means to accomplish its duties and assume its responsibilities in preserving the world’s peace and security.”

Saudi Arabia takes a stand

The GCC is backing Saudi Arabia's rejection of its first rotating seat on the UNSC, praising the Gulf nation's call for a restructuring. GCC Secretary General, Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani, “underlined the importance of Saudi Arabia's call for the realization of a fundamental reform of the Security Council's system.” In addition, Qatar supported Saudi Arabia's stance. "The state of Qatar agrees with the reasons outlined by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to turn down a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.”

The Saudis and the GCC should shoot even higher to sway their influence. In order to sooth Saudi and GCC concerns about a grand bargain that leaves the future security architecture of the Gulf shoreline to Iran and the West, Saudi Arabia and the GCC should express in strong diplomatic terms inclusion in any P5+1 negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program. This development would be beneficial alleviate some stress due to their lack of presence.

Reforming the UNSC

The need for reforming the UNSC is obvious. Over the past 15 years of negotiations within the UNSC, there are five key issues of dispute: categories of membership, the question of the veto held by the P5, regional representation, the size of an enlarged UNSC and its working methods, and the UNSC-General Assembly relationship. The present composition of the UNSC has been unchanged since 1965, created in a different era with clearly altered security priorities around the globe and specifically in the MENA region.

With the ongoing geo-political shifts in the Middle East, as well as Iran’s continued nuclear drive, the UNSC should reflect the existing realities instead of being caught in a stagnant vacuum that damages the international order. Much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia and the GCC states, the UNSC is unable, from their point of view, to act on many critical issues due to P5 veto power and the allowance of prolonged, fruitless negotiations—like those with Iran. The P5 needs to understand that when key regional security issues that affect UN member states such as Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC, the peripheral states must be part of the process.

Overall, the Saudi protest over the temporary chair on the UNSC should be taken in a broader context. Negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program should be inclusive of Saudi Arabia and the GCC. At the very least, the P5 needs to invite Saudi Arabia and the GCC to the next Geneva meeting if only as observers in order to start a process of inclusion that results in a robust Gulf Arab voice on the most critical security issue surrounding the Gulf.

The spirit of moving forward through a true multilateral process would result in more enhanced, fruitful progression, providing a more stable foundation to resolve not only the Iranian nuclear dispute but other issues of concern in the broader Middle East region. After all, shouldn’t Saudi Arabia and the GCC be able to voice their own security requirements without external interference, especially when the development of potential nuclear weapons is involved?

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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.