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Saturday, March 30, 2013
Gulf Research Center: Gulf states may have to act against Iran since US underestimates Arab Gulf concerns

The distinct worry of the GCC states is that one day they will wake up and
Iran will have become nuclear. The dangerous consequences this has for the
regional balance of power appears to be underestimated in Washington when
viewed from the Arab Gulf capitals.

March 26, 2013
Whither GCC-US Relations?
Abdulaziz Sager
Gulf Research Center

The US-GCC relationship appears to be at a crossroads. Despite a long
history of relations and a clear common and mutual interest in the stability
and security of the Gulf region, the GCC states and the United States look
as if they are growing apart on an almost daily basis. This is because on
basically every issue of strategic importance and concern at the moment, the
two sides are taking or have taken different positions. In this environment,
the differences are growing rather than shrinking, an ominous development
for the coming years.

On Syria, the GCC position is that the Assad regime has lost all legitimacy
and that a negotiated solution that leaves the regime intact is no longer
viable. While the consensus appears to be that the fall of the present
government is inevitable, there is great concern in the Arab Gulf states
that this eventuality will be prolonged with devastating consequences for
the entire Middle Eastern region in the meantime. Every day that the Assad
regime is able to survive, the chances increase of a dangerous spillover
effect in neighboring countries including Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, and the
influence of the extremist elements within the Syrian revolution grows. It
in this context that the GCC states have undertaken to support the armed
resistance and further have argued for lifting the arms embargo currently in
place so that arms can be supplied to selected moderate groups within the
rebel movement. The United States, in the meantime, has resisted calls for
the lifting of the arms embargo and even vetoed the possibility of supplying
adequate weaponry to the rebel forces. This stands in opposition even to the
positions of the UK and France. Statements such as those by the new
Secretary of State John Kerry about "empowering the opposition" are seen in
the Gulf as weak and non-committal.

A second point of increased disagreement concerns the Iranian nuclear
program. While the diplomatic tug-of-war has continued for several years
now, no substantial progress has been made on receiving adequate assurances
from Iran about the supposedly peaceful intentions of their nuclear
activities. Instead, Iran has accomplished exactly what it set out to
achieve, i.e. continue negotiations without making any concessions in an
effort to simply stall and buy enough time to work towards a nuclear
capability. The position of the US that there is still time to resolve this
issue diplomatically stands in contrast to that of the GCC states that the
clock is ticking and that negotiations cannot continue forever. The distinct
worry of the GCC states is that one day they will wake up and Iran will have
become nuclear. The dangerous consequences this has for the regional balance
of power appears to be underestimated in Washington when viewed from the
Arab Gulf capitals.

The third point pertains to the persistent failure of the United States to
play the role of an honest broker in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The result
is that the two-state solution seems dead in the water. While the GCC states
have repeatedly tried over the past decades to work towards a resolution of
the crisis, including expanding diplomatic contact with Israel and issuing
the King Abdullah Peace Initiative that later was adopted by the whole Arab
League, the US has refused to take a more balanced position or undertake a
concerted push for realistic Middle East peace. President Obama's recent
visit to Israelis not expected to make any headway in this direction. In
fact, it looks as if the issue does not feature at all on the agenda of his
second-term presidency.

There are numerous other issues of disagreement ranging from Iraq to Yemen,
as well as to the situation in Bahrain. In all these instances, there is a
consistent feeling in the GCC states that the US fails to truly understand
the overall strategic environment and the dangers associated with the shifts
taking place. It is exactly at a time when the region needs active
involvement by the United States and strong leadership that one sees
hesitancy, a lack of strategic direction, and an overall tendency to look
away from the problems facing the Middle East as a whole.

The fact that one sees such a divergence has raised some serious questions
in the mind of the Gulf citizens. The first is whether, after such a long
period of close relations, the US still perceives a vital interest in the
stability of the Gulf region as in the past. Second, even if there are
statements from Washington underscoring its continued commitment, it is not
clear whether the GCC states can continue to rely on US policy to not only
protect the region but to also move it towards a more stable future.
Instead, the prevailing mood appears to be that the terms are beginning to
change to such a degree that the GCC states have no choice but to act on
their own and without consideration of US interests and concerns. This is
bound to have consequences, real and unintended, for both sides, and the
question should be asked whether such increased separation will not come
back to haunt the region as a whole.
Dr. Abdulaziz Sager is Chairman of the Gulf Research Center

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