By Arab News
By Bikram Vohra*
The GCC summit in Riyadh has a lot more to offer than mere rhetoric and could, under the stewardship of Saudi Arabia as the host country and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s initiatives, become a watershed in today’s geographical and political equations.
For one, the presence of the US president in what is a bid to mend fences indicates how seriously the big powers must take the GCC and its priorities. These visits are no longer icing on the cake but of strategic import. The solidarity of the GCC enclave to speak with one voice and ask of the US to clarify where it stands on the issue of Iran vis-à-vis the region is a strong platform and carries with a message of hope and concern but, above all, one of a reformed and collective will that sends out an eloquent message: The US cannot and must not play two ends against the middle.
And if there is any mistaking the intent of the Council to speak with one voice nothing puts it across with more fervor than the togetherness shown by all members in supporting Morocco on the matter of western Sahara and responding to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s statement that it is “occupied” territory.
If President Barack Obama wishes to end his eight-year stint on a high note he knows he has to go beyond reassurances and mere gestures of diplomatic niceties. The region has been scarred by what is happening in Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Iraq and the spreading stain of terrorism in its many hues is a menace that has to be controlled. If there are legitimate fears of it being often “state-sponsored” then the GCC is well within its rights to expect every nation in the world to back it and use its good offices to control and end it rather than give these merchants of death and destruction tacit or material support. Any influence should be used to sponsor peace not conflict.
By that very token if there is any more prevarication or delay or obfuscation on this issue then the members of the GCC have the full right to seek alternative courses of action and defend one another against a common threat.
The Arab world has always wanted peace. King Salman has made that very clear on several occasions. That desire to live in harmony has never changed. But when the agony of its people stays unabated and there is a suspicion of aid and encouragement being given to hostile and armed faction to contribute to instability in the region and place in peril a whole generation of young Arabs then the only recourse is to stand up as one and say, enough.
America’s right to have a relationship with Iran cannot be at the expense of the Arab world. Terrorism is an absolute and does not come in varying colors. This is what the GCC is asking: Acknowledge state-sponsored militancy and help us stop it.
There is no argument that the US has strong and binding ties with the region and that this relationship is integral to the peace and prosperity of the world. Both sides hold it in great esteem and over the years much good has been done.
However, the acid test is now. US foreign policy in the Middle East must become more realistic and work toward solutions and not exacerbate problems. If this meeting between President Obama and King Salman and his participation in the GCC conference can hasten a coming together on the same page and there can be time-bound commitments from Washington that there is no such thing as “good” extremism this is the right moment to change the paradigm.
These ties must be shorn of doubt and expediency and the US has to move in tandem with the GCC members to bring about cease-fires, lasting and durable peace and a sense of security to the region. This process must start today and must follow a timeline. Anything less would be not just a disappointment but also leave a very uphill climb for President Obama’s successor. More importantly, it could lead to unilateral moves by the region, which would make the US role marginal and bruise Washington’s credibility.
As the conference unfolds the GCC has shown pragmatism, commitment to peace and a great restraint, allowing all options to be tabled sans prejudice. This display of mature political acumen is an opportunity that should not be overlooked. The bus of good sense doesn’t come around all that often.