Kerry strives to bolster relations with Egypt, GCC
WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State John Kerry’s quick but critical visit to Cairo and Doha signalled President Barack Obama administration’s desire to create new security architecture in the Middle East in the wake of the Iran nuclear agreement.
First stop: Cairo, where Kerry and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry had the first US-Egypt “strategic dialogue” since 2009. After allowing the relationship to fray following the removal of Muhammad Morsi as Egypt’s president, the Obama administration effectively returned to the default policy the United States pursued prior to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak: Acknowledge Egypt’s strategic importance while simultaneously voicing concern over human rights issues.
The hold on US military aid was lifted earlier in 2015, the F-16s have been delivered and Kerry announced that the Bright Star joint military exercises would resume. At a news conference, Kerry warned that excessive use of force in the struggle against terrorism could backfire and cautiously urged respect for human rights, but Shoukry was unmoved.
On to Doha, where the goal was to secure the blessings of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on the nuclear agreement with Iran. Kerry offered a bargain: Publicly support the agreement (which, in any event, you cannot undo), and we will expedite arms transfers, intensify intelligence cooperation and counterterrorism training and start discussions over a missile defence system.
The GCC countries went through the motions of publicly blessing Kerry’s bargain but Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah’s words were less than enthusiastic. “This was the best option among other options,” he said at a news conference with Kerry. In the appearance, Kerry made a point of acknowledging Iran’s “destabilising” actions in the region and reiterated that the nuclear deal will not prevent the United States from working to thwart Iran’s bad behaviour.
No one really believes that the GCC states are happy with the Iran deal but they know that they must live with it at least until the end of Obama’s term in office, so why not use the occasion to secure closer military ties with Washington? In any event, the GCC’s unsolicited “ally”, Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu, is doing the dirty work for them by throwing daily temper tantrums about the agreement and unleashing the pro-Israel lobby in Washington to try to stop it.
While in Doha, Kerry had a private meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Sources tell The Arab Weekly that Lavrov proposed that the battle against the Islamic State (ISIS), and not Iran or the Assad regime in Syria, should be the priority. Kerry and Jubeir reportedly demurred, as one would expect. Lavrov’s proposal suggests that Moscow is not eager to help orchestrate a political solution in Syria.
So Kerry must have felt satisfied as he headed back to Washington to prepare for a trip to Cuba. He assured Egypt that everything is back to the pre-“Arab spring” normal and he got the GCC leaders to offer public support for an agreement they privately oppose. Not bad for a guy on crutches.