Gulf States discuss Iran following WikiLeaks revelations

US cables showed Arab leaders wanted military strike, but change tune at Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Abu-Dhabi.

By DAVID E. MILLER / THE MEDIA LINE
December 7, 2010 19:39
In a photo provided by the Departmeent of Defense,

gates in abu dhabi 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

 
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Arab Gulf states, some of whom were exposed by the WikiLeaks release of US State Department cables as privately urging an American military strike against Iran, are now publicly calling for a diplomatic approach to stifle their neighbor's nuclear aspirations.

American diplomatic correspondence leaked last week described repeated appeals to the United States by Saudi King Abdullah to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. In a 2008 meeting with US General David Petraeus, the king reportedly asked the Americans to "cut off the head of the snake." Bahrain and Jordan were also cited as advocating a termination of the Iranian nuclear program "by any means necessary."

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But at the opening of the 31st Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Abu-Dhabi on Monday, Kuwaiti Emir Shaikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah advocated words rather than deeds when dealing with Iran.

"We call for the resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis through dialogue and peaceful means," Al-Sabah told the assembly. "This will allow for a peaceful resolution of the issue and provide security and stability to the region."

Created in 1981, in part as a response to the Islamic revolution in Iran two years earlier, the GCC is a political and economic body uniting six oil-rich Gulf States: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  The GCC countries occupy the Gulf coast opposite Iran, but relations are tense amid concerns that Tehran's Shi’ite government aims for dominance in the Gulf, where the Arab states are ruled by Sunni Muslims. 

"The council followed developments in the Iranian nuclear file with the utmost concern and stresses again the importance of commitment to the principles of international legitimacy and the resolution of conflicts through peaceful means," a communiqué from the GCC declared.



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Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said some Gulf States more strongly advocated a military solution to the Iran problem than others, but that the GCC meeting’s emphasis on dialogue was a direct result of the embarrassing WikiLeaks revelations.

"These states are deeply conflicted about the needed course of action," Shaikh told The Media Line. "WikiLeaks exposed a deep fear of Iranian hegemony in the region, but showed no blanket call by Gulf states to attack Iran."

He contended that the Kuwaiti leader’s speech exposes rifts within GCC foreign policy but noted that countries such as Kuwait, Qatar and Oman were never cited in the WikiLeaks cables as advocating a military strike. "There are also nuances within each of the countries with regard to the appropriate course of action," he said. 

But Moustafa Alani, research program director at the Gulf Research Center, said Al-Sabah's speech reflected the real attitude of Gulf States towards Iran.

"I have spoken to many people in the GCC states, and no one is interested in another war that will destroy the economy and deteriorate the region," Alani told The Media Line. "The Gulf has already suffered four wars over the past decades. If the crisis can be solved by peaceful means, no one will opt for war."

Alani said the WikiLeaks account was a one-sided impression of an individual diplomat, in no way indicative of the entire picture.

"The Gulf states believe the United States and Israel have their own interests at hand, and war will not serve the interests of the Gulf."

Shaikh said the GCC leaders were also probably influenced by a new round of nuclear talks this week between Iran and a group of nations led by the US, feeling that they cannot be seen taking a harder line on Iran the US and Europe. Although they officially welcomed the talks, the GCC countries didn’t hide their anger at being excluded from them.

“Any solution with Iran should come from the region, and the GCC countries should have a role in these negotiations,” UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahayan told the conference.

A further round of negotiations with Iran is now scheduled for early next year.

Another issue on the GCC's agenda was terrorism, about which the WikiLeaks documents also created some discomfort for Gulf governments. The cables revealed that US officials accused Saudi Arabia of being a source of terror funding, including a 2009 assessment by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton naming donors in Saudi Arabia as “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” The cables cited Qatar and Kuwait as being notably lax in pursuing terror finance cases.

At the GCC meeting, however, Sheikh Khalifah Ben Zayid Al-Nahyan, president of Abu-Dhabi, the biggest of the UAE countries, pointedly commended the Saudi efforts in fighting terrorism on Saudi soil. Sheikh Al-Sabah of Kuwait echoed the praise of his Emirati counterpart.

"We are closely following Saudi Arabia's efforts to combat terrorism," Al-Sabah said. "We express support for the kingdom and the international community in their fight against terrorism in all its forms."

Over the past eight months,19 Al-Qaida cells were reportedly uncovered by Saudi Authorities, who arrested 149 operatives for planning attacks against military targets in the kingdom.

The nuclear issue was not the only grievance voiced by Arabs towards Iran; a territorial dispute is also disturbing the UAE. The islands of Abu-Mousa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb were allegedly illegally occupied by Iran in November 1971. Sheikh Al-Sabah called on Iran to enter negotiations or turn to the International Court of Justice to resolve the issue.

Iran and the UAE are major trade partners, reaching $12 billion in 2009. Iranians are said to account for 10% of the UAE's population.    

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