Iran nuclear deal alienating Saudis and Gulf emirates

While negotiating from a point of weakness and reconciliation to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the Obama administration has all but ignored an important and beneficial geo-strategic coalition for over five years: the Gulf Cooperation Council.  And if the US is trying to rebuild its relationship with the GCC, it’s failing miserably.

Arab News reports that SecDef Hagel attended a GCC defense ministers meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he promised negotiations with Iran would not harm GCC security.  Hagel stressed,

“First, these negotiations will under no circumstances trade away regional security for concessions on Iran's nuclear program,” he said , [snip] “Second, while our strong preference is for a diplomatic solution, the United States will remain postured and prepared to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon - and that Iran abides by the terms of any potential agreement.”

Almost on cue, GCC member Saudi Arabia presented an unofficial invitation to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to meet with the Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, demonstrating the GCC’s lack of confidence in Hagel’s statements.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian told the official IRNA news agency that Tehran had yet to receive Riyadh's formal invite, but a meeting was expected.

This is not the first time Saudi Arabia and the GCC have tried to spur US action to counter Iran’s nuclear program.  In 2009, the Kingdom attempted to get the administration’s attention by proposing a huge arms deal with Russia.  Later, the Saudis threatened to cancel the deal if Russia transferred SA-20 air defense missiles to Iran.  These missiles were likely to be used to protect the Russian built reactor at Bushehr.  This was plainly an attention getter, since after decades of purchasing US and Western equipment, the Russian gear would have been logistically unsupportable.  [The Kingdom tried a similar gambit in 2013 when it offered Russia a $15 billion weapons purchase deal to back off supporting Syria’s Assad and to not block any UN resolutions against the Syrian regime.  Russia did not accept the deal, seeing it for the bribe that it was; but supposedly Putin did persuade Assad to allow UN chemical weapons inspectors in the country.]

Regardless of the justified reluctance to become involved in the Syrian civil war and several other sectarian conflicts, Obama’s failure to remain engaged with the anti-Iranian GCC for over five years is perceived as the US switching sides.  We are left to wonder if Secretary Hagel even realizes his boss is leaving the GCC hanging out to dry.  These are the same countries that supported the US during the First Gulf War, and several still host vital US bases in the region. 

And finally, what will Obama and Hagel do if the Russians do accept a lucrative arms deal?  After all, the Russians take phone calls from Saudi Arabia, but not from the US SecDef.

John Smith is the pen name of an intelligence officer