Arab States’ Strong “Nay” to (P)GCC Union Plan

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Underlying Reasons and Future Outlook

Mohammad Ali Mohtadi
Middle East Analyst

A recent plan drawn up and proposed by the government of Saudi Arabia for the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] to become a union has been turned down by the majority of the (P)GCC member states. Not only the Sultanate of Oman came out in opposition to the plan, but it was also rejected by other littoral Arab states of the Persian Gulf such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait. Since the proposal had been already rejected by Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, other member states of the council also rejected it being certain that the plan would not be passed by the council members. In more clear words, the plan proposed for the conversion of the (P)GCC into a regional union had no chance of success from the very beginning.

In fact, Saudi Arabia has made many mistakes in this regard. Before making the plan public, the officials in Riyadh should have taken two critical steps. Firstly, they should have assessed the possibility of the adoption of the plan by the council members. If Saudi Arabia reached the conclusion through conducting direct or indirect opinion polls that the member states of the (P)GCC had not reached a consensus on the plan yet, it should have withdrawn the plan as the second step. The Saudi leaders should have first determined if other member states of the (P)GCC are for or against the plan. After making sure that an agreement will be reached on the plan within the council, the Saudi officials could have discussed mechanisms for the implementation of the plan.

Saudis, however, did not take any of those steps and brought up the plan quite hurriedly. Therefore, they were met with strong opposition within the council which dealt a new blow to the regional policy of Saudi Arabia. As a result, the country has become more isolated both at a regional level and among the littoral states of the Persian Gulf.

Why Arab countries said “no” to Saudi plan?

When trying to evaluate the reason(s) behind Oman’s opposition to Saudi plan, it should be noted that throughout its history, Muscat has been trying to follow an independent policy. According to the country’s policy, priority has been given to having peaceful relations with all the neighboring countries as well as other states, and this has been an unwavering principle in Oman’s foreign policy. This feature has also served as the main differential point between the foreign policy of Oman and that of other member states of the (P)GCC. Even following the victory of the Islamic Revolution and establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, when some member states of the council adopted a hostile policy toward Iran, Oman pursued a peaceful policy which was based on understanding and cooperation between the two countries as well as respect for the two sides’ national interests. Iran and Oman are situated on two sides of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which is a vital waterway. The two countries have a great deal of common interests in and around the Strait of Hormuz, including for the protection of its security. Therefore, it is not strange for Oman to oppose Saudi plan and the measure is totally in line with the basic policies of the Sultanate. Another point which should be emphasized here is that Oman is actually not against cooperation and union, but Omani officials have correctly realized that by raising the plan at this juncture, Saudi Arabia is pursuing two major goals:

1. To form a common front against the Islamic Republic of Iran as a prelude to further adventurism against Iran. This issue has not been – and still is not – in line with the principles of Oman’s independent foreign policy; and

2. The plan represents an effort to make other member states of the (P)GCC subordinate to Saudi Arabia, thus allowing Saudi Arabia to play a leadership role for those countries.

As a result, under present circumstances, not only Oman, but also other Arab states are not ready to allow Saudi Arabia to continue playing its past role of “big brother.” At present, Oman has rejected this approach. The United Arab Emirates on the other hand, is following an independent policy in both areas of foreign policy and economics. On the other hand, Qatar is engaged in intense rivalry with Saudi Arabia. Kuwait, although behaving respectfully toward Saudi Arabia, does not recognize the role of “big brother” for Saudi Arabia. Although Bahrain has allowed Saudi forces into its country and is the closest member of the (P)GCC to Saudi Arabia, it is trying to pursue an independent policy and does not accede to further dominance of Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the leaders in Riyadh should recognize these changes in the region and accept that the time is past for them to continue being bigger brother for other (P)GCC member states because now, every country is acting independently within framework of its own national interests.

A union for kings!

As for the relations between the (P)GCC and other Arab countries, it should be noted that by proposing a union, Saudi Arabia has been trying to bring other Arab kingdoms like Jordan and Morocco into the council as if it is a council made for Arab monarchies only. This viewpoint is greatly at odds with the new global developments in the 21st century when most countries are moving toward democracy and recognition of people’s right to self-determination. Popular uprisings in the Arab world during the past three years have also made such an approach look irrelevant. In fact, establishing monarchial rules within framework of dictatorial, not constitutional, kingdoms is not an idea that would have any chance of progress and survival in modern times. As a result, although Jordan and Morocco have been, one way or another, taking sides with Saudi Arabia, this has been mostly the result of billions of dollars in aid that they have been receiving from Riyadh, not because they have been convinced about the correctness of Saudi Arabia’s policy.

Due to the policy that Saudi Arabia has been pursuing in the region during the past few years, including its support for the Al-Qaeda and Takfiri terrorists in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, the country has been actually isolated among the regional states and this isolation is quite evident. Therefore, Saudis have no more friends in the region. However, even if there are still countries that pretend to be friendly to Saudi Arabia, it is because of billions of dollars that they receive from Riyadh in aid. Nonetheless, when it comes to the foreign policy sphere, they prefer not to get in line with Saudi Arabia. For example, Egypt is a country where Saudi Arabia has made huge investments and to which Riyadh has been giving major financial aid. As a result, relations between the two countries are quite amicable. However, the government and people of Egypt have many reasons to be angry at the regional policy of Saudi Arabia and this issue has been reflected in frequent attacks launched on the Saudi Embassy in Cairo by the Egyptian people.

The most important problem is that Saudi Arabia has not come to grips with the regional and international realities yet and is treating those realities with an arrogant approach. The arrogance evident among Saudi officials due to the existence of large oil reserves in the kingdom has only increased the hatred of other regional nations toward Saudi Arabia’s policies. As a result, there are two issues that have incited the hatred of the regional nations toward Saudi Arabia. The first reason is the arrogant approach taken by the country which holds other nations in humiliation as a result of the financial aid it gives them, with the second reason being Saudi Arabia’s inhumane policy of supporting Takfiris and their violent measures such as massacre of people and invasion of regional countries.

How Iran reacts to Saudi policies?

Iran has been pursuing a principled policy in the region. As a result of that policy, the Islamic Republic has frequently declared that it seeks regional understanding and cooperation under the present global conditions, especially in an age of globalization. Tehran argues that in this age, the best way to protect the national interests of all countries in any region is promotion of regionalism and regional cooperation. Iran has declared more than once that it is ready to have friendly relations based on respect for mutual interests with all its neighbors and is also willing to boost cooperation and understanding with those countries. [The Iranian President] Hassan Rouhani and [Foreign Minister] Mohammad Javad Zarif have repeatedly emphasized that Iran's nuclear program and a recent nuclear agreement Tehran recently clinched with six major world powers [in the Swiss city of Geneva] pose no threat to any regional countries and Iran's neighbors. On the opposite, they are meant to benefit all regional states. It seems that other regional countries have accepted Iran's logic.

During the same meeting of the (P)GCC, Kuwaiti Emir Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah clearly announced this issue by noting that the member states of the (P)GCC warmly welcomed the agreement reached between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the six major world powers [including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China – plus Germany] in the Swiss city of Geneva. A major goal of a recent regional tour by the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was to explain this issue to regional states. Kuwait was the destination of the first leg of his regional tour. Such an approach clearly indicates that Kuwait does not believe that the agreement is to the detriment of any party in the region and has accepted this logic. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia is the sole country which has been trying to convince other countries, through his irrational positions, that the agreement is against regional countries. As a result of this approach, Riyadh has practically closed the door to negotiation and dialog with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

There is no doubt that in view of the firm positions adopted by other member states of the (P)GCC [on Iran's nuclear deal], Saudi Arabia will sooner or later be forced to change its policy and engage in dialog with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Otherwise, if Riyadh continues on the path of its current hostile policy, it will be finally the biggest loser of this game. This is true because political developments in the region are moving toward more understanding and finding solutions for chronic problems through dialog. As a result, Saudi Arabia’s policy is, in fact, a vain effort to swim against the tide and at the end of the day, it is sure to get nowhere. Therefore, before long, Saudi Arabia will regain its rationality and will, most probably, make an overall revision to this policy. Otherwise, Riyadh will be the main loser of the ongoing political game in the region.

Key Words: Arab States, (P)GCC Union Plan, Reasons and Future Outlook, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Arrogant Approach, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Hassan Rouhani, Mohtadi

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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