Obama and reforming relations
Washington cannot be open to Iran while, at the same time, allow it to threaten the region’s security and interests
Barack Obama’s recent visit to Riyadh, where he met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders, may be his last as president of the United States. The US-GCC summit held during Obama’s visit to the kingdom represents the second chapter of the Camp David meeting when Obama hosted Gulf leaders about a year ago prior to signing an agreement with Iran.
The situation of Gulf and Saudi Arabia’s relations with Washington regarding all matters linked to Iran, particularly to Syria, Iraq and Yemen, hasn’t improved much. The developments in these three countries have increased tension in the region in an unprecedented manner.
Between the Camp David meeting and the Riyadh summit the White House concluded its pledge of signing the nuclear agreement with Iran but failed to balance this step based on the Gulf point of view. At the same time, Iran and its allies continued their efforts to control the region, particularly the three troubled countries, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and threatened the security and stability of Gulf countries.
The situation in the region hasn’t given the Gulf countries a chance to cooperate with Washington in its project of openness to Iran as the nuclear agreement has allowed the Revolutionary Guards Corps to fight beyond its borders and engage in wars we haven’t witnessed before.
What was expected following the Camp David meeting last year was for the US to balance lifting of the sanctions on Iran with a strict policy that confronts the latter’s attempts to expand and threaten its neighbors. This balance, however, has not been achieved. Sanctions on Iran were lifted and its frozen assets released. Tehran was thus able to seal deals with other countries and was also made part of the negotiations involving crises in the region.
At the same time, its military operations in the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen have been overlooked. The US did not threaten to punish Iran despite its repeated violations of the UN Security Council resolutions of arming rebels in Yemen. For example US, British, French and Australian naval forces have seized Iranian arms’ shipment en route to Yemen.
Against chaos, not against reconciliation
Gulf countries are committed to not opposing the international agreement reached during the Camp David meeting last year out of their desire to clearly indicate to the US that they are not against the principle of the West’s reconciliation with Iran but against Iran’s policy of exporting chaos and revolutions to the region. This is a policy which the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini has adopted after clerics seized power in 1979 and which current Iranian leaders are currently implementing on a wider scope.
This is what is causing rift in the Saudi-American and Gulf-American relations. Washington cannot be open to Iran while, at the same time, allow it to threaten the region’s security and interests and demanding countries in the region to make concessions. Obama’s presidential term ends at the end of this year, and this is not a short period of time considering the escalation of dangerous developments in the region from Syria to Libya.
Washington cannot be open to Iran while, at the same time, allow it to threaten the region’s security and interestsAbdulrahman al-Rashed
In the following months, if Obama wants to conclude his presidential term with maintaining his détente with Iran and keeping his special relations with Gulf countries, and with Arabs in general, he can do so by achieving a balance that corrects the differences of opinion over negotiations on the nuclear agreement. These countries cannot see Iran dominating Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and acting against them in Yemen while remaining idle.
How can Obama achieve balance? It’s enough if he implements his announced statements of supporting the exclusion of the leader of the Syrian regime and supporting the UN decisions taken prior to the coup in Yemen, which was supported by the US.
Will Obama do so? There isn't plenty of hope. The president did not say anything that hints he will and his government's policy does not hint that either. It seems he's betting that the different parties get exhausted in the struggle and eventually accept some sort of solution. He's not enthusiastic about taking new positions, perhaps because he no longer sees strong reasons to ally with Gulf countries and because he does not think there are friendly countries which are closer to his country than others in the region.
The policy of staying away seems to be Obama's favorite option since he became president seven years ago. This policy however has been wrong on two points as it proved that the countries in our region do not get exhausted in a short period of time and that the alternative to not engaging in their crises is chaos.
Chaos is what produced al-Qaeda in the past and the ISIS and other terrorist operations which threaten the world today. Pressuring Iran and confronting it can end the crises in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen or at least stop major confrontations there.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 24, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed
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