Camp David should be about more than ‘words and weapons’

Recent comments made by the UAE Ambassador to the U.S. can be regarded as indicative of the sentiment most Gulf states have towards the current U.S. administration and its imminent, controversial nuclear deal with Iran.

"We are looking for (some form of) security guarantee given the behavior of Iran in the region," Ambassador Youssef Al Otaiba said at a Washington think tank last Thursday.

"In the past, we have survived with a gentleman’s agreement with the United States about security ... I think today we need something in writing. We need something institutionalized."

Indeed, trust levels between the U.S. and its allies in the Gulf have probably never been this low; this is certainly not good. Needless to say, a positive GCC-American relationship is extremely important, strategic and beneficial - not just for countries concerned, but also regionally and internationally.

But when the U.S. administration ignores legitimate concerns by its own allies and goes ahead with a nuclear deal which will unleash an unshackled Iran to do more harm to its neighbors and finance more proxy wars through groups the U.S. itself labels as terrorists, then Gulf countries simply can’t be blamed for voicing concerns.

Not understanding the realities of the region

What makes matters worse is a genuine doubt among GCC politicians and observers whether or not the American administration understands the realities of the region.

For instance, the U.S. president infamously described Iran in an interview with Jeffery Goldberg last year as “strategic” and a country that “responds to costs and benefits.”

How could this be true when all we have seen from Iran, since the start of the nuclear negotiations, are even more acts of aggression and intimidation?

Did President Obama not hear about how officials in Tehran have recently boasted about occupying four Arab capitals and that there is a new Persian empire with Baghdad as its capital?

A positive GCC-American relationship is extremely important, strategic and beneficial, not just for countries concerned, but also regionally and internationally

Faisal J. Abbas

I would like to remind Mr. Obama what he told Jeffery Goldberg in that same interview when he was asked to justify the U.S.’s focus on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The U.S. president explained at the time that ridding Iran of its nuclear ambitions would make it less able to bully others and prevent Tehran from using these weapons in the future. However, he then added that “other misbehavior they (the Iranians) are engaging in is manageable.”

Mr. President, if Iranian misbehavior is indeed “manageable,” then why isn’t your administration managing it?

To be clear, I don’t think anyone disagrees that ridding Iran of the capability of developing nuclear weapons is a good idea; however, the concern among most GCC states is that this might turn into a situation similar to the way the White House dealt with the Syrian regime. While President Obama was forcing Assad to destroy his chemical weapons arsenal in 2013, he seemed to turn a blind eye to the other weapon stockpiles being used by the regime to kill Syrian civilians.

Seeing eye-to-eye with Gulf states

As such, I believe a recently published AP analysis got it right when it stated that Arab countries will be expecting ‘more than words and weapons’ at Camp David.

Of course, the White House could argue that it showed its commitment to the Gulf in Yemen, as American intelligence, logistical support and a U.S. navy presence were vital for the Saudi-led coalition in the fight against Houthi militias.

However, what guarantees will the U.S. offer to ensure that the lifting of sanctions does not mean Tehran will channel even more money and resources to the likes of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, who have been firing mortars across the southern border of Saudi Arabia and targeting schools and innocent civilians there?

Did President Obama not hear about how officials in Tehran have recently boasted about occupying four Arab capitals and that there is a new Persian empire with Baghdad as its capital?

Faisal J. Abbas

Furthermore, does the nuclear deal mean that the U.S. will need to limit its presence in the region? What guarantees can Washington offer that this will not simply give Iran a green-light to undergo more acts of aggression?

In all cases, it’s now too late to discuss this – the deal with Iran is almost sealed.

What is really needed from the U.S. administration is to genuinely see eye-to-eye with Gulf states, as close and historic allies, and to agree on truly legitimate concerns that have arisen as a result of a series of questionable foreign policy decisions.

With that in mind, having some guarantees in writing – as Ambassador Al Otaiba suggested – doesn’t sound unreasonable at all; however, what is more important is for the U.S. to understand that the GCC issue isn't with Washington's intentions, but with Tehran's!

Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:44 - GMT 06:44
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