GCC and the Challenge of US-Iran Negotiations

Posted in Broader Middle East | 06-Mar-09 | Author: Nicole Stracke| Source: Gulf Research Center

The flag of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The news that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has assured the GCC states that the US will be in full consultation with its Gulf allies regarding the widely-expected US-Iran dialogue is noteworthy.

This is the new US administration's first public assurance indicating its intention to involve the GCC states in its declared policy of negotiating directly with Iran. Such assurances have been demanded by the GCC leadership for some time now. GCC states have legitimate and deep concerns about the conduct and objectives of US policy vis-à-vis Iran. Equally, they have genuine apprehensions about the US ability and willingness to handle the problem relating to Iran without undermining GCC interests. It appears that the UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan has demanded a definite commitment from the American side that nothing will be done behind the back of the GCC states and no concessions shall be made behind closed doors that could compromise the national interest of the GCC states in any way.

Driven by the same concern, four of the GCC states - Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - had gone to New York last December and demanded similar assurances from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council besides Germany. The New York meeting between the foreign ministers of the four GCC countries and the 5+1 states focused on the GCC's demands that the outcome of any new policy adopted by the UN Security Council in relation to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program should not undermine the GCC states' security, stability and national interest.

Over the past few weeks, the GCC's concern about the true nature and development of the Iranian nuclear program has deepened with the surfacing of new information and statements. Different sources have indicated that Iran is moving fast and unhindered towards the objective of acquiring military nuclear capability. During an interview with a leading Arab newspaper, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner pointed out that reliable sources show that the Iran has set up a new site (apart from the known Natanz site) to accommodate thousands of additional centrifuges to speed up the process of uranium enrichment.

This statement, coupled with the assessment of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, that new evidence points to Iran having enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon, has justifiably generated uneasiness and cause for further concern about Iran's intentions and the recent progress of its nuclear program.

At the same time, the satellite launch by Iran in February this year indicates that Tehran is improving the capability of its ballistic missiles development program. It also strengthens Iranian military capabilities as the missiles could be used in the long term to carry nuclear warheads.

The basic fact is that the Iranian nuclear program poses a serious and equal threat to all the GCC states. Nevertheless, during the GCC-5+1 talks last December, evidence emerged placing some doubt on the GCC's unified approach towards an Iranian challenge. The absence of two GCC states, Qatar and Oman, from the consultations indicated the possibility that a different approach and diverging views exists among the GCC states over the right way of dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue. Disunity among the GCC states will serve no one and can only send wrong and disturbing signals to Iran and to the US. GCC states will face a crucial challenge in the coming months with the possible opening of direct US- Iran negotiations where all issues related to Iranian policy and interests in the region could come up for discussion and a compromise could be possibly reached. If the GCC states wish to remain informed on the course of the negotiations and influence their outcome, GCC unity is an absolute requirement. To speak in one voice to both parties, the US and Iran, to express the same concerns and put forward the same demands is key to protecting GCC states' vital and legitimate interests.