By Mohyeddin Sajedi
Amidst the recent developments across the world, the first session of the “Strategic Cooperation Forum” in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has not received much attention from the media and analysts.
Some of those incidents include the deadly developments in Syria and the global attention on the situation in this country; the second “Friends of the Syrian People” meeting and UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s proposal to resolve the crisis in Syria; the ongoing civil war in Libya; and the penetration of al-Qaeda members into north of Mali and the military coup in this country.
Prior to her visit to Istanbul to attend the “Friends of Syrian People” summit, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her counterparts in the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council. Thus the “Strategic Cooperation Forum” sprang into existence with the membership of both parties.
It was obvious that the Syrian issues would be discussed in this meeting and last agreements would be made before the Istanbul summit.
The agreements resulted in more Saudi and Qatari funds for arming the Syria opposition within the framework of the US plan to pressure Annan and even bring about the failure of his six-point plan.
Prior to the recent two years developments, Saudi Arabia wielded the greatest influence on the (P)GCC, but now it has been forced to share that position with Qatar. The longstanding differences between Riyadh and Doha have given way to the cooperation on Syria. They are both assisting the opposition of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remove him from power for a Salafi government to be installed instead.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar still share the same opinion regarding Iraq and have deliberately dispatched senior officials to Baghdad to attend the Arab League summit. According to the Qatari prime minister, they want to send a clear message to Iraq, whose president is “Kurd” and also “Shia.”
However, one cannot include Kuwait and Oman in the same category as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Not only did the Kuwaiti emir participate in the Baghdad summit, but also agreed on an increase in the level of cooperation between Baghdad and Kuwait. More delegations from both countries are also due to meet to resolve border and historical differences.
Another issue that was discussed between the US Secretary of State and the [P]GCC was about building a missile defense shield against Iran. Apparently there has been a reason for the propagation of this issue as there has always been a strategic military cooperation between the US and the [P]GCC since the early 1980s and the establishment of this council.
Washington encouraged the formation of this council to create a shield against Iran to guard against the influence of its popular revolution. US forces have been deployed in all of the [P]GCC states.
The establishment of important US bases in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar has a long history. They were used in Iraq’s war against Iran as well as in Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, and later, during the fall of the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. The United Arab Emirates has allocated part of its soil to France where a military base will be built, while British officers are supervising the armed forces of Oman.
Military cooperation between the United States and the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] is nothing new and the Council is the biggest customer of the American weaponry. The establishment of the “Strategic Cooperation Forum” indicates official US membership in the Council. Political developments in the past three decades have shown that neither individual members of the (P)GCC, nor its totality, enjoys efficient strategic thinking and their policies rapidly change as a result of environmental factors. Once they supported Saddam in his war against Iran and, in another time, they helped the US occupy Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Then they reached the conclusion that by invading Iraq, the US has practically delivered that country to Iran in a silver platter.
The (P)GCC, in association with the US, is currently playing a counterrevolutionary role in the ongoing developments of the Arab world and popular uprisings in these countries. Its members are fearful of the spillover of popular protests into their countries and try to use their financial and political clout to change the course of revolutions in the Arab countries.
After the fall of Saddam, the Saudis asked Washington to attack Syria so that a Sunni government would take over in Damascus as a counterbalance to Iraq’s Shia state. After a while, the Saudi king went to Syria to start a new round of economic and political relations between Riyadh and Damascus and prevent the assassination of former Lebanese premier, Rafiq Hariri, from obstructing that path. Following the breakout of unrests in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Qatar found it a golden opportunity to pursue their past policy for the establishment of a Salafi state in Damascus.
Undoubtedly, these policies aimed, and still aim, at distancing Syria from Iran and putting pressure on Tehran. The deployment of a missile shield is a new way of escalating that pressure. The Council has accepted US policies since George Bush Jr. became president and is pursuing them in order to change the Arab-Israeli conflict into the Arab-Iranian conflict. Therefore, no reference was made to the issue of Palestine and Israel’s occupationist policies during Riyadh conference which aimed at introducing the “Strategic Cooperation Forum.” This development was closely related to Iran’s nuclear issue. Oil-rich states like Saudi Arabia have assured the customers of the Iranian oil that they should have no concern about the impact of Iran oil sanctions.
The (P)GCC is an example of the failure of a regional organization to achieve military and economic unity. The United States needs the council and has become its member to save it. There is no doubt that the Strategic Cooperation Forum is also a brainchild of the United States.
Mohyeddin Sajedi is a prominent Iranian political analyst who writes extensively on the Middle East issues. He also serves as a Middle East expert at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran.