Gulf summit aims to signal solidarity amid Iran tension

The Arab Gulf states want to show cooperation after a deep division.

 Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Bahrain's Prime Minister and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa hold a meeting at the Royal Palace in Sakhir (photo credit: REUTERS)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Bahrain's Prime Minister and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa hold a meeting at the Royal Palace in Sakhir
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Gulf Arab leaders gather on Tuesday for an annual summit expected to stress cohesion after a deep rift, at a time of regional concern over Iran and rising economic rivalry within the oil-producing bloc.

The Saudi crown prince toured Gulf states ahead of the summit, which comes nearly a year after Riyadh put an end to a 3-1/2-year Arab boycott of Qatar that had shattered the U.S.-allied Gulf Cooperation Council.

Saudi Arabia and non-Gulf Egypt have restored diplomatic ties with Doha but the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have yet to do so, though Abu Dhabi has moved to mend fences.

"I have to admit there are areas that will need some time, but I mean practical, functional (Gulf) cooperation is back on track," senior UAE official Anwar Gargash said last week.

Saudi media said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's tour aimed to highlight solidarity as global powers seek to revive a nuclear pact with Iran, amid deepening Gulf uncertainty about the U.S. role in the region.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and United Arab Emirates’ leader Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, December 13, 2021. (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and United Arab Emirates’ leader Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, December 13, 2021. (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran are locked in a rivalry for influence that has played out across the region in events such as Yemen's war and in Lebanon, where Iran-backed Hezbollah's rising power has frayed Beirut's Gulf ties.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions, missile program, and regional proxies, are engaging with Tehran to contain tension.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have moved away from hawkish foreign policies that saw them wade into Yemen and lead the boycott of Qatar, to a more conciliatory approach as they vie to lure foreign investment, and win over U.S. President Joe Biden.

Abu Dhabi has moved faster to mend fences with Iran and Turkey while also re-engaging with Syria after forging ties with Israel last year.