Iran's Nuclear Agreement and the (P)GCC

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Hossein Kebriaeezadeh
Expert on Middle East Issues

Iran's revolution, which triumphed in 1979, evoked harsh reaction of the country’s Sunni neighbors. In fact, the establishment of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] was a regional coup d’état in order to counter what its members described as the Iran threat.

Unlike all other collective security mechanisms across the world, this council’s general approach has been mostly an ideological one and less of a geopolitical nature. Therefore, throughout its lifetime, it has not been able to get rid of perceptual enigmas and misunderstandings, and this issue has been further amplified by geopolitical variables, territorial claims, ongoing political issues, and general orientations of regional powers.

In the meantime, discussions on Iran's nuclear case at international bodies caused tangible facts to be made available to this council through the biased reports prepared by the Western institutions, so that, the radical members of the council were able to persuade other members about the need to confront Iran, and call for further strengthening of the council.

However, following the breakout of popular uprisings in the region in 2011 and due to suspicions about further rise in Iran's influence and power in neighboring countries, the council was provided with a new pretext for its confrontation with Iran. In this way, confrontation between Iran and the council, whose decisions are actually made by such influential members as Saudi Arabia, continued through proxy wars in Bahrain, Yemen, and especially in the strategic front of Syria.

At the height of this confrontation, in which the international community was apparently taking sides with the council due to special conditions in the region and Iran, the Islamic Republic and the West clinched their nuclear agreement, which subsequently changed the situation for the council and its members. Different reactions shown to this agreement by member states of the council were indicative of a rapid change of course among them, and some analysts predicted that if the agreement was actually implemented and Iran got out of its current state of isolation, the council, which is a subsystem affected by the global order, would also experience long-term changes.

At present, the council lacks an independent legal character and there is also no well-defined and respectable regional order and structure in place. Under these circumstances, a review of the track records of the council with regard to the regional developments would show that, for example, following the popular uprisings in the Middle East, this mechanism was not able to adopt a solid approach to those uprisings, while such an approach would have been possible if its members had a clear definition of the council. On the opposite, we witnessed divergence among the (P)GCC members and certain members like Qatar, took different positions on such issues as interaction with the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, management of regional developments, and taking stance on the developments in Bahrain. Due to the separatist and independence-seeking spirit of Qatar within the council, its position on Iran's nuclear case was also opposite of its big brother, Saudi Arabia.

Therefore, Iran's nuclear deal can provide reformist politicians in Qatar with an opportunity to bring about a major change in the Saudi-centered structure of the council. Earlier in 2007, when the council held its meeting in Doha, an old taboo was shattered by inviting then Iranian president to the council’s meeting for the first time by Qatar.

In addition to the ambitious Qatar, Oman is also friendly toward Iran and is among those members of the council that has always had sustainable and amicable relations with the Islamic Republic to the extent that it has even played a mediatory role for the beginning of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States.

However, the most important obstacle to convergence and cooperation between Iran and the council is Saudi Arabia. This is a country, which by lending its support to anti-Iran proxy groups, has been engaged in an age-old hostility with Iran in order to isolate Tehran in the region and is, as such, a major anti-Iranian member of the council. Positions adopted by Saudi officials show that there is no clear outlook in sight for a change in Riyadh’s approach to Tehran, both individually and within the framework of the council.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is another member of the council, which unlike Oman and Qatar, is more in line with Saudi Arabia. However, it should be noted that 10 percent of this small country’s 2-million population are Iranians. According to statistics, there are currently 8,200 Iranian businesspeople and 1,200 Iranian companies active in this country whose strategic depth is insignificant. Following Iran's nuclear deal with the world powers, UAE cannot insist on its anti-Iranian stances anymore without due attention to its economic and social relations as well as security considerations with Iran, even when it comes to the ownership of the three Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf.

The conservative government of Kuwait stands somewhere between these two extremes, which due to its high vulnerability, has been always very cautious when reacting to various regional issues, especially Iran's nuclear case and the subsequent nuclear agreement. Perhaps this is why Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif chose Kuwait as one of the destinations of its recent regional tour in addition to Qatar. The stable and cordial relations that Kuwait has with Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and its positive stance on Iran's nuclear deal, on the other hand, can help the country to play a mediatory role between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

In view of the above facts, it is more possible that the majority of the (P)GCC’s member states may choose to support Iran's nuclear deal. This would, in turn, lead to a change in the council’s behavior and create a model of cooperation between the council and Iran, at least, with regard to such issues as fighting terrorism and radical groups. If this happens, Iran nuclear deal would be the second factor after the wave of popular revolutions in the Middle East to lead to political groupings among the member states of the council. Of course, in that case Saudi Arabia would try in collusion with its anti-Iran allies like Jordan and Egypt, which are observer members of the council, to thwart the efforts made by the reformist members to achieve their goals.

Key Words: Iran, Nuclear Agreement, (P)GCC, Regional Powers, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Kebriaeezadeh

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