Strength in Numbers

GCC Relations

The united stance of the GCC of today seems to be a far cry from the state of the organization just last year, when the Saudi-Emirati-Bahraini bloc withdrew their diplomatic […]

The united stance of the GCC of today seems to be a far cry from the state of the organization just last year, when the Saudi-Emirati-Bahraini bloc withdrew their diplomatic envoys in Qatar over tensions rooted in the latter’s support for former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. This withdrawal, which happened in March 2014, was among the worst diplomatic rows ever faced by the GCC.

The row was famously resolved during a surprise summit in Saudi Arabia last November, featuring the Emirs of Kuwait and Qatar, the King of Bahrain, the Vice-President of the UAE, among others. This came ahead of the scheduled annual summit in Doha in December, which was already being billed as the last chance for the GCC to mend its internal problems. Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah and the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia are largely credited with taking a personal role in leading in mediating the issue.

Back then, a resolution was eventually reached and diplomatic envoys returned due to what a GCC statement described as the “sensitive circumstances of the region,“ and the need for a strong base to safeguard the GCC. The issue of security, which helped to end one of the GCC’s historically worst episodes, is also seemingly responsible for its current strong and united state.

Against the backdrop of comprehensive nuclear deals with Iran and Iran’s allegedly increasing role in Yemen and Syria, the GCC has made efforts to put on a distinctly united front. Particularly toward the US administration, the GCC has never been as united in its stance regarding the situation and strategy in Yemen and Syria.

This was also the context of a May summit in Camp David, US, featuring dignitaries of all six GCC members, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir from Saudi Arabia. Meeting with US President Barack Obama, the GCC presented their unified concerns against a nuclear agreement with Iran, while also discussing wider cooperation efforts with the US to ensure security in the Gulf and the wider Middle East. While no one is expecting Saudi Arabia or the GCC to ever fully embrace an Iranian nuclear deal, the summit did produce a diplomatic consensus about possible benefits of such a deal, and reaffirmed US-GCC relations. The Saudi Arabian-led organization made its voice heard, but also recognized the role that it could play in resolving the region’s conflicts. More specifically, the US and GCC member states “reaffirmed their willingness to develop normalized relations with Iran should it cease its destabilizing activities and their belief that such relations would contribute to regional security,“ according to a joint statement from the summit.

With the largest economy, military, and population in the GCC, Saudi Arabia has always been viewed as the de facto leader of the organization. Now, Saudi Arabia is faced with leading the GCC through a number of challenges: Asserting its own power in dealing with regional security threats in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, while also maintaining its strong ties with the US and ultimately normalizing relations with Iran for the benefit of the region.

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