Arabs against Iran's Nuclear Program: Security Concerns or Political Opportunism?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ali Akbar Asadi, PhD Candidate
Department of International Relations, University of Allameh Tabatabaei

There is no common approach to Iran's nuclear program among Arab countries. One can perhaps put it this way that there are two kinds of approaches to Iran's nuclear energy program among Arab countries. The first approach is special to Arab countries of the Persian Gulf most of which are against continuation of Iran's nuclear energy program due to their geographical propinquity to Iran as well as more intense regional rivalries and differences between the two sides. The second approach is related to Arab countries which are located in a farther distance from Iran and have, therefore, taken a more moderate approach to Iran's nuclear program.

Apart from governments’ approaches, the general approach taken to Iran's nuclear program by people of these countries and the Arab masses, on the whole, is greatly different from the approaches taken by their governments. In fact, a large part of the Arab masses look to Iran's nuclear energy program from a totally different standpoint: they believe that this is an Islamic country mastering nuclear technology which can create counterbalance to Israel's nuclear capacity in the region.

The member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] took a more moderate approach to Iran's nuclear program at the beginning and tried to avoid taking very negative positions on it in order to prevent such a possible negative position to have untoward effects on bilateral relations with Tehran. By and by, their approach underwent radical changes and those governments called for forthright halt of Iran's nuclear program. At first, member states of (P)GCC started their criticism of Iran's nuclear energy program by putting the highest emphasis on its environmental aspects and consequences. After a while, however, they took a more outright critical approach to Iran's nuclear program and called for total shutdown of the entire program.

It seems that recent political developments in the region have left their mark on the approach taken by (P)GCC member states to Iran's nuclear program. This means that following political changes which have been rapidly unraveling in the region since 2003 and have changed the power balance especially in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, these countries are now more concerned than ever. In fact, the main concern of the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council is the potential impact of Iran’s nuclear program on the balance of regional power. They believe that Iran's nuclear capability will certainly change that balance of power in favor of Iran, thus, further undermining their regional role and standing. This is why they are doing their best to stop that nuclear program and, in doing this, they have made recourse to various policies and measures, including recourse to international political players and organizations. This means that they try to take advantage of big powers and international organizations in order to stop Iran’s nuclear program and achieve their goals through consultation with those powers.

Another important issue about the approach taken to Iran's nuclear program by the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, which is also a reaction to that program, has been announcements by some of them that they are also launching their own nuclear programs. This issue can be considered from three different angles:

1. First of all, by making such announcements, they are actually trying to make the world realize that nuclearization of Iran is tantamount to nuclearization of the entire Middle East region and, therefore, can further intensify an atmosphere of insecurity as well as regional conflicts.

2. On the other hand, Arab countries of the Persian Gulf are trying to gain international credit by moving on the path of nuclearization and especially increase their credibility in their countries’ domestic public opinion as well as the public opinion of the Arab world while increasing their symbolic power.

3. Another important dimension to this issue is an effort launched by these countries to introduce to regional countries a new model of nuclearization and utilization of the nuclear energy. This means that Arab countries of the Persian Gulf are planning to acquire nuclear technology without mastering the entire nuclear fuel cycle. In fact, they are going to become nuclear states by importing nuclear fuel from other countries. With the help from Western countries, they have been trying to highlight this model in the region and put the highest degree of emphasis on it in order to show that Iran can also use this model and, therefore, can totally give up its indigenous uranium enrichment program.

Other measures which are also telltale signs of these countries’ efforts to bring Iran's nuclear energy program to complete standstill include:

1. Arguments in favor of creating a region free from weapons of mass destruction in the Persian Gulf; and

2. Offering a proposal to establish an international uranium enrichment consortium in the Middle East.

Although such proposals have been frequently offered, they have not invoked serious feedback because European countries have played an active role in Iran's nuclear energy program from its very outset. Later on, the European countries were replaced by the group P5+1 (including the US, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany) which, from time to time, offer proposals and initiatives.

Saudi Arabia and Iran's Nuclear Energy Program

The present conditions in the Middle East region have made Saudi Arabia generally want to increase tension between Riyadh and Tehran. To do so, one of the main strategies adopted by Saudi Arabia throughout the region has been to escalate tension with Iran with the ultimate goal of increasing tension between Shias and Sunnis. Saudi Arabia maintains that this approach will be to its benefit under the present circumstances. Riyadh firmly believes that such an approach will mobilize the Arab masses behind Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, while overshadowing regional issues and developments, such as the popular uprisings, on the other hand. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia takes a totally negative approach to Iran's nuclear program.

The next issue is that Saudi Arabia does not really want Iran, the P5+1, and other big powers to resolve challenges and issues related to the Iran's nuclear dossier through negotiations. Saudi officials fear that close relations between Iran and the West will harm Saudi Arabia’s regional standing. On the other hand, since Iran has taken a clear approach to its nuclear rights announcing that it is only pursuing inalienable rights of the Iranian nation, any kind of agreement on the nuclear issue is taken by Saudi Arabia as acceptance of Iran's nuclear right and its regional standing by the P5+1. Such state of affairs will be a lethal threat to Saudi Arabia’s regional credit and is, therefore, unacceptable to Riyadh.

As a result, Saudi Arabia prefers for the existing tension between Iran and the West, especially over Tehran’s nuclear energy program to continue. This will enable Riyadh to use big powers and international potentialities to put more pressure on Iran in the region. The ultimate goal is to force Iran to mend its regional approaches and somehow give up the regional role and position that it has already defined for itself.

Key Words: Arab Countries, Iran's Nuclear Program, Security Concerns, Political Opportunism, (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, Asadi

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

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