Cautious optimism in the Gulf after summit
London - The results of the Camp David summit between US President Barack Obama and leaders and representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been met with cautious optimism by officials and analysts in the Gulf region.
The historic meeting, organised by the US administration, was called in an attempt to address reservations by GCC leaders concerning the possible US-Iran nuclear agreement, which Gulf States fear would empower and allow Tehran to step up its expansionist activities.
The prospects of a successful summit seemed to dim when a number of Gulf leaders, most notably Saudi Arabia’s Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, declined Obama’s invitation. To help overcome the malaise, Obama granted a number of interviews to regional media outlets, using the unprecedented opportunity to laud US-Gulf relations and Saudi Arabia in particular, describing ties as “extraordinary”.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al- Jubeir was cautious in his post-summit assessment, saying that GCC leaders were “assured that the objective is to deny Iran the ability to obtain a nuclear weapon”. However, he added that it was too soon to know if a final nuclear agreement would be acceptable, saying, “We don’t know if the Iranians will accept the terms they need to accept.”
Some analysts said the summit did assuage part of the GCC leaders’ fears but did not go far enough in tackling all their insecurities. “As far as the summit goes, I think that the Saudis and others in the GCC did appreciate President Obama’s effort to allay their concerns about the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear energy programme,” said Fahad Nazer, a terrorism analyst at JTG Inc., a Washington-based think-tank.
“However, it is not clear at this point that the two sides were able to overcome the main issue over which their policies diverge,” he said. “While the US administration appears to think that concluding a deal with Iran and removing economic sanctions will compel it to moderate its posture and adopt more responsible policies across the region, some of the GCC states, including Saudi Arabia, think that the end result of the nuclear deal could be just the opposite: Flush with cash after the removal of sanctions and on relatively good terms with the West, Iran might feel emboldened and try to expand its influence and meddling in the region.”
Nazer went on to say that while the final communiqué reiterated a US commitment to help the GCC defend its interests and territorial integrity against outside threats, it does not have the force of law.
“I think Iran’s incendiary rhetoric and its provocations near Yemen’s waters during the Saudi military operation there will likely be seen as confirmation of the GCC’s fears. Iran seems to have a very difficult time playing by the rules of the international community,” he added.
The Camp David summit was designed more for the United States to get in sync with GCC states with regards to the new Saudi doctrine, an assertive foreign policy designed to deter aggression militarily and restore security politically, analysts said.
“There was an important sentence in the joint communiqué issued after the summit which stated that GCC countries will consult the United States in case they participate in military activities outside their borders,” noted Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi political analyst. US Army General Lloyd Austin, head of US Central Command, revealed to the US Senate that Saudi Arabia only informed the United States about Operation Decisive Storm a few hours before the start of attacks in Yemen.
Khashoggi told The Arab Weekly that this means that GCC states, and in particular Saudi Arabia, will continue to take the lead while keeping the United States in the loop.
“What really explains the summit is the American position in the first week of operations, which saw political support, both internationally and at the (UN) Security Council, as well as logistical support and intelligence sharing,” said Khashoggi.
The US refusal to enter into a written, binding, NATO-like security agreement with GCC states should not be viewed as a disappointment however, Khashoggi said. “We should remember how Obama was nonchalant about the whole region and after Decisive Storm he changed,” he said. “So we should continue taking the lead and the Americans will follow with their support.”