Why Gulf countries should be part of future US-Iran negotiations

The threat that Tehran poses to Gulf countries is one reason why such states should be included in future negotiations between Iran and the United States.
by Bassem Ajami

17 June 2019 | 19:06

Source: by Annahar

  • by Bassem Ajami
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 17 June 2019 | 19:06

A fishing boat speeds past an oil tanker in the distance in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, June 15, 2019. (AP Photo)

Where will the confrontation in the Gulf lead to? This is the question that is preoccupying most European and Gulf countries today.

The inclusion of Gulf states in future U.S. discussions with Iran is more important than the participation of European countries. This is because Gulf states are more exposed to Iranian threats than Europe.

Since the advent of the Islamic Republic, the ruling mullahs have made no secret of their decisive aim to export their revolution. And they have wasted no time to realize their ambition. Their target has been neither the United States nor Europe. Their aim has been to project Iranian influence throughout the Gulf region.

The list of examples that show how Iran aims to realize its ambition is a long one.

Yemen is a good example.

The war in Yemen, pitting Houthi rebels against a Saudi-led coalition is part of the large regional confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran rightly believes that if Saudi Arabia succumbs, the rest of the Gulf states will fall under its influence.

Threatening Saudi Arabia from Yemen is hardly new in regional politics. During the Arab Cold War, (1957-67), as civil war raged in Yemen between rebels and government forces, Egypt's Jamal Abdul Nasser sent troops to support the rebels, while the Saudis supported the loyalists. Nasser's ultimate objective was very much similar to Iran's present aim. He wanted to topple the Saudi monarchy and replace it with a revolutionary regime. He failed.

Nonetheless, the threat that Tehran poses to Gulf countries is one reason why such states should be included in future negotiations between Iran and the United States. Another reason is that Washington cannot be trusted to take the concerns of the Gulf states into serious consideration.

They fear that, if President Donald Trump is satisfied that Iran will not produce nuclear weapons and that it will impose the needed limitations on the production of ballistic missiles, he will drop the demand that Tehran curbs its ambitions in the region. And they have good reason to harbor such fears.

In concluding the nuclear deal with Iran, former President Barak Obama ignored Iran's threat to the region. The former president was very sympathetic to Iran's quest for superpowerdom status at the expense of Gulf countries.

On the instructions of President Obama, the U.S. security services stopped an investigation into the involvement of Hezbollah in money laundering and drug trafficking in South American countries. Obama's move can only be interpreted as a gesture towards Iran to demonstrate his intention not to challenge Tehran's tools in the region.

And while President Trump has indicated that he will not follow his predecessor's example, he has an incentive to keep Iran as the scarecrow of the region. Such a situation will maintain the sale of expensive weapons systems to satisfy the concerns of rich Gulf countries. Recent declarations by the U.S. president describing his lust for Arab money in return for "subsidizing" Saudi Arabia support such point of view.

Still, one may argue that Lebanon too should be included in future negotiations between Iran and the U.S. Beirut is one of four Arab capitals that Iran boasts has fallen under its influence. But it is precisely Iran's yoke over Lebanon that prevents it from accepting an invitation to participate in such discussions, should such an invitation be extended.

Lebanon's experience only emphasizes the need for Gulf countries to be part of any future negotiations between Iran and the Trump administration.

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