The US-GCC Summit held on May 14 at Camp David, designed by the American administration as a demonstration of the inviolability of the relationship between the Arabian monarchies and Washington against the backdrop of the impending deal with Iran on their nuclear program, in fact became yet another testimony of the deepening rift between the long-time allies.
It failed to observe even an outward show of unity. The key player – the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Saudi King Salman did not come to the summit, he cancelled his visit just on the eve of the meeting. A close ally to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa ignored it, too. The leaders from the UAE and Oman did not arrive. In fact, the meeting could only be called a summit because it was honoured with the presence of the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. The low level of participation became a reason for the Arab and world press to call it a “slap on the face” of the Americans. Washington-controlled news agencies tried to forget about the summit on the next day.
We can not say that the participants did not want to save at least the façade appearance of the unanimity. A great deal of traditional words about friendship and loyalty to each other were said. The US president declared the “strong commitment” to protecting the security of the Arab Gulf states and even pointedly mentioned the possibility of using military force as a guarantee that the potential nuclear agreement with Iran would not make them more vulnerable.
He was seconded by the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir staunchly committed to Washington, who said that Arab leaders “were confident that the goal (of the agreement) was to deprive Iran from the opportunity to acquire nuclear weapons,” and that all the ways to this would be blocked off.
The summit could not do without assurances of the White House that the future agreement with Tehran was “a complete, verifiable solution that eliminated the concerns of the regional and the international community over Iran’s nuclear program in the interests of security of the international community, including our partners of Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.” “As we declared in a joint statement, Barack Obama also said at a joint press conference summarizing the results of the summit, the United States are ready to work jointly with GCC member states to deter and confront an external threat to any GCC state’s territorial integrity that is inconsistent with the UN Charter.” Arabian monarchies were also promised “specific steps” in this direction, but in fact, without any special details.
But GCC Assistant Secretary General Abdel Aziz Abu Hamad Aluwaisheg, who showed the greatest enthusiasm, said at a meeting in the Institute of Gulf Affairs in Washington that the summit “exceeded all expectations”. He told reporters that meetings of joint committees of the US-GCC committees on Defence and Security would be held in the coming weeks, where the deployment of Missile Defence complexes and radars for early warning of missile attack would be discussed. This is closer to the point.
So how can we characterise the results of the summit? Yes, Barack Obama as Aluwaisheg disclosed, reassured his Arab friends that this referred to some big agreement between the US and Iran on the division of spheres of influence, that it covered only the question of control over the Iranian nuclear program, which should not go beyond certain prepared documents.
He, as it appears from the comments, promised to sell even more American weapons to the Arabs, focusing on how to create a regional Missile Defence complex in the Gulf, that is more needed by Washington than by the Arabs because the US wants to see this system as a part of a global Missile Defence complex, directed, first of all, against Russia.
But in fact, the Arabian monarchies are actually concerned with another problem, and Obama did not answer their question. Riyadh and its dwarfish satellites, which until recently were carrying out any whim of Washington and paying all astronomical bills for its military adventures, first of all, are not only concerned by the nuclear program itself, but the fact that Iran getting out of its sanctions begins to strengthen its positions in the region, depriving the Gulf states of their strategic value in the eyes of “the big brother”.
But Tehran’s positions started strengthening much sooner, and largely thanks to the US position, which systematically destroyed the entire regional balance of the past twenty years, and now find themselves in the face of growing discontent in their Arab allies, demanding security guarantees from Washington.
But they have not received exactly them. GCC states are not a part of NATO, aren’t allies such as Israel, and Barack Obama in fact refused them in Camp David in broadening the US commitments of their protection. To sell them more weapons – yes please, but to protect them against Iran – no thanks.
If we seek an insight into the heart of the Arabian monarchs, behind all these gestures a lurking fear lies that one day the United States, which are increasingly distancing themselves from the Middle East, focusing all their efforts on countering Russia and China, will leave their liege men to fend for themselves, as it happened in 2011 with Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt.
Riyadh realises that best of all that instead of relying on verbal promises of Washington that they undertake the organisation of resistance to Iran on all fronts themselves. This and the activation of military hostilities of Syrian opposition against Bashar Assad stimulated by Saudis, and the military campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, and the friendship with Paris bought for large contracts that having turned into an “errand boy” for the Saudi princes, now has to firmly defend their interests in the negotiations of the “Six” on the Iranian nuclear program with Tehran, and the involvement of its powerful lobby in the United States, finally creating a rapid reaction force of the Arab Sunni states under the auspices of the Arab League.
Whether it will be enough for the survival of the Arabian monarchies, only time will tell. However, it is clear that the times when Washington was considered a friend in the capitals of the Gulf States is long gone.
Pogos Anastasov, Political Expert, Orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.