By Arab News
Senior officials from the Gulf Cooperation Council and the US met last week in Riyadh and agreed on a coordinated approach toward Iran. The GCC-US Working Group on Iran was set up in November 2015 following the Camp David summit of May 2015, where President Barack Obama and Gulf leaders agreed to set up several working groups to manage different aspects of the GCC-US strategic partnership. While the focus of those working groups was initially on security and political issues, subsequent summits and ministerial meetings expanded the scope to other matters.
In its meeting last Wednesday, the GCC-US Working Group on Iran reaffirmed that long-standing partnership and expressed “shared determination to contribute to regional security and stability.” The meeting addressed three main issues: Iran’s regional activities, its missile program, and its nuclear activities. In a statement issued afterwards, the group condemned Iran’s “aggressive and dangerous” policies, including the proliferation and direct use of ballistic missiles and drones in hundreds of attacks against civilians and critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, as well as civilian merchant seamen in the international waters of the Sea of Oman and Global Coalition Against Daesh forces in Iraq and Syria.
The gathering also discussed regional issues and agreed that Iran’s support for armed militias across the Middle East and its nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose clear threats to regional security and stability. The US and GCC states further agreed to hold subsequent meetings of this working group to discuss these threats and other issues within its terms of reference, which were adopted in its inaugural meeting on Nov. 3, 2015, addressing Iran’s conventional and asymmetric threats against peace and security in the region.
The US and GCC states agreed that Iran’s nuclear program is of grave concern, as it has taken steps for which it has no civilian need. These steps, such as the production of highly enriched uranium and enriched uranium metal, would be important only for a nuclear weapons program. They called for Iran to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and allow unfettered access and effective inspections of its nuclear activities.
The US and GCC member states affirmed that Iran has a better alternative to these continued escalations, which have kept the region in turmoil for decades. They called on Iran to change course and contribute to a more secure and stable region. Members of the GCC briefed on their efforts to build effective diplomatic channels with Iran to prevent, resolve or de-escalate conflicts, backed by strong deterrence and defense cooperation with the US and other partners. They described a vision for these regional diplomatic efforts developing over time to promote peaceful ties in the region, based on a long history of economic and cultural exchanges.
However, those diplomatic efforts will not succeed if Iran continues to provoke a nuclear crisis and escalate regional tensions. The GCC side stressed that a mutual return by Iran and the US to full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action should pave the way for greater efforts toward both better regional economic relations and a longer and stronger agreement to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes and that the Gulf region will remain free of nuclear weapons.
At the end, the two sides welcomed the upcoming seventh round of JCPOA negotiations in Vienna and called for an urgent mutual return to full compliance with the nuclear deal, paving the way for inclusive diplomatic efforts to address all issues that are necessary to ensure sustainable safety, security and prosperity in the region.
The GCC and US urged the Iranian administration of President Ebrahim Raisi to seize the current diplomatic opportunity to choose the right path — to prevent conflict and crisis and create the basis for enhanced regional security and prosperity.
While the GCC and US agreed to give the Vienna talks a chance to succeed, they are aware of the many pitfalls surrounding such a proposition.
First, other than general reconciliatory statements, the new administration in Tehran has shown few tangible signs that it is interested in de-escalation. The Houthis have gone into overdrive in Yemen, Iran-affiliated militias have upped their activities in Iraq, and Hezbollah is tightening its grip on Lebanon, driving the country into a complete meltdown.
Second, there is a fear that Iran will slow-walk the JCPOA talks, dragging its feet while it takes additional steps toward developing a military nuclear capability, following the North Korea example of the past.
Third, Iran may use the JCPOA talks as cover to escalate its malign regional activities, as happened with the JCPOA in 2015. Then, it took advantage of the P5+1’s desire to reach a deal and avoid censuring Tehran while the talks were ongoing.
Fourth, without an enhanced monitoring and inspection regime, Iran’s return to the JCPOA would be meaningless, as there would be no way of ascertaining its full compliance.
Aware of these possible hazards, the GCC-US Working Group on Iran will continue to monitor progress in the JCPOA talks, while taking steps to strengthen GCC defenses in the face of emerging threats from Iran. At the same time, the GCC is going to continue its efforts to de-escalate the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy.
- Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs & Negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Twitter: @abuhamad1