A few days ago, U.S. Secretary John Kerry said his country would discuss options for peace in Syria, Yemen and the wider Middle East. This was seen as a quick and surprising leap in U.S.-Iranian relations. The nuclear deal was only signed a few months ago, before which Washington and Tehran had been enemies for three and a half decades. Relations have not yet normalized, but Washington is openly acknowledging that Tehran will be a partner in solving the region’s many problems.
This is not the first time that the two cooperate. Iran helped the United States in the initial phases of its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Washington informally acknowledged Iran’s role in Iraq, even if there was not direct cooperation. There has also been cooperation in the U.S.-led strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
However, this time is different, and it calls for concern in the Arab Gulf states. For one, this is being done in the open, with Washington not shying away from sitting with the Iranians to discuss Arab issues. More importantly, it is happening amid improvement bilateral relations. One cannot consider this a onetime event, but rather the start of a long-term security architecture in which Iran becomes a vital component.
Regional stability cannot be acquired without active Iranian participation. However, Iran is a main reason for much of the instability in the region, and the way Tehran was invited to solve its problems seems like rewarding it for creating instability. Moreover, inviting Iran to play a role in solving Arab problems should have been done in coordination with Arab countries, at least the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is now in a cold war with Iran.
Iran is a main reason for much of the instability in the region, and the way Tehran was invited to solve its problems seems like rewarding it for creating instability.Abdullah Hamidaddin
Bypassing the GCC has raised as much alarm as the signing of the Iran nuclear deal. Russian intervention in Syria is amplifying GCC concerns. Kerry has also said his country will talk with Moscow on Syria. We have since seen Russian warplanes striking targets in Syria. So the GCC is now wondering about the limits of Iran’s regional role.
It is has been clear for some time that the United States is changing its Middle East security strategy, delegating non-strategic security issues to the countries of the region. Inviting Iran seems to be part of that strategy, and can be seen as an American signal to the GCC about the U.S. perception of the council’s capacity to solve regional issues alone.
There have been multiple reports in American media about the limited political and military capacity of the GCC countries, and about the integral relationship between ISIS and Salafism, the prevalent religious strand in those countries. Inviting Iran is like Washington saying those opinions in the media reflect - at least partially - its view of the GCC.
This is something we need to discuss among ourselves, and with Western partners, journalists, think-tanks and politicians. Behind those glossy niceties by American leaders is a new perception of the GCC that is not in its interest. I support improving relations with Iran. I believe its leadership is rational, but it will not miss an opportunity to pull the rug from under us. We need to think and act fast.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1
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