U.S.- GCC Agreement of Camp David and The Security Future of the Gulf

31 Oct 2015

The Gulf region is if a great strategic importance for the United States, due to its strategic location between Europe and East Asia, and the fact that it boasts almost half of the global reserve of oil. The British Empire itself once took advantage 

The Gulf region is if a great strategic importance for the United States, due to its strategic location between Europe and East Asia, and the fact that it boasts almost half of the global reserve of oil. The British Empire itself once took advantage of this region and ensured the free movement of its warships and merchant vessels in the harbors of the once called Trucial States, which later became to be known as the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. These states became close allies with the US in a long-standing partnership by which the latter is committed to provide military support and defense the GCC countries against any military threats in the region, and to be the main foreign partner in any security arrangements on a regional level.

with the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolts some dictatorships were overthrown and the US-Gulf relations were put to the test since the whole political structure in the Arab World was dramatically impacted by these events. It could be said that the Gulf States survived these revolts thanks to their economic fortunes and the policies of development and employment. Nevertheless, they had been left in a state of ambivalence- in addition to Jordan and Morocco- for being the only counties that have not yet witnessed any serious popular movements, although the political turmoil that affected Egypt and Syria in specific was in part advantageous for the Gulf states and their oil-based economies.

Furthermore, the US-Gulf relations became particularly strained after the nuclear deal had been signed with Iran with a complete negligence of the GCC, which made the latter consider the deal as a direct and unequivocal threat to the stability of the region. The US responded by inviting the Gulf countries to convene in Camp David resort to tackle the leaders concern on the nuclear deal with Iran.

This study seeks to analyze the security dilemma in the Arab world in general and the Gulf countries in particular, in light of Iranian nuclear program, after the Geneva interim agreement was signed between Iran and the 5+1 countries on November 2013. The Gulf countries could be left without a robust security system especially of the US fails to maintain its position as a the Gulf’s security partner against any challenges and threats. This means that the Gulf states could become strategically exposed, which could eventually lead to serious political, economic, and security challenges in the Gulf region and the internal situation in its countries and the political future of the Gulf states.


First: Why Hold A Camp David Summit?

The US and the Gulf states gathered in Camp David because the former realized that the Gulf states are worried about a number of issues:

First: Challenges on the International level:

A: The US places less importance on the Middle East and it is not a top priority any more in its foreign policy

Susan Rice, a former national security advisor in the White House, stated that ““We can’t just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is,” she said, adding, “He thought it was a good time to step back and reassess, in a very critical and kind of no-holds-barred way, how we conceive the region.”[1] This means that the status of the Middle East will not remain the same and this would eventually reflect on the whole region in two ways: the first is a possible change in the nature of alliances in the region, and the second is opening the way for regional powers to use this for their own interests, which may increase the tension among them[2]. It is worthwhile to consider here some of the reasons that made the ME lose its significance as far as the US is concerned:

1- The end of the Cold War: The US needed during this war to increase its political and military sway in the ME and leave no chance for Russia to do the same. The Cold War, although officially came to an end decades ago, it has only practically ended recently. This is confirmed by the fact that Vladimir Putin chose not to escalate with Washington, although it had removed from power one of his main allies in the region, namely Saddam Hussein, and more recently the Qaddafi regime.

2- The US increasing budget deficit and federal government debts, which was over $18 trillion this year, which equals 103% of the national income. This makes any military movement come with a huge financial burden that is difficult to handle.

3- Enhancing the US goals to achieve energy-independence: President Obama adopted this strategy, although it was previously championed in 1974-1977 and 1984-1989 but the results were not convincing. Some new reports indicate that the US is seeking to gradually reduce its dependence on the petroleum imports from the ME, since they went from 1.007 million barrels in 2001 to 789.082, and that is 218.725 less oil barrels. On the other hand, the US is trying to reduce its imports of oil in general. While it used to import almost 60% of its needs in 2005, it now imports only 40%, and 50% of this is imported from Canada, Central and South America.[3]

4- The US refrains from intervening militarily in the region: the US administration has been reducing its use of military force directly on a global level, since military intervention is less favored domestically, and the military interventions of the Bush administration had made the American people be critical of any future military engagements in other countries. Polls show that most Americans don’t support a military intervention of the US in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, nor Syria. It is important to note here that this approach is not of the Obama administration as such, it is rather a clear attitude of the American society and state, and it will probably remain so even if a republican candidate became the next US president, especially that the continuing economic crisis makes Americans wish to avoid more trouble and intervention in other countries.

Second: Regional Challenges

The Gulf states face several security tests that could be summarized as follows:

1) The Iranian threat: that is evident in the following elements:

a- The Iranian Revolution: Researchers believe that the success of the Iranian revolution in 1979 is the reason behind the creation of a common regional defense system by the Gulf countries, in order to deal with any eminent threat posed by the new Iranian republic, and to prevent the transit of the revolution to the Gulf region, a threat made frequently by Iran at that time[4]. Iran considers the American military presence in the Gulf region a major threat to its national security.[5]In its attempt to counter this threat, Iran has laid its own vision in regards the security of the Gulf, stating that the countries surrounding the Gulf should be responsible for protecting it[6], but the Gulf countries did not welcome the proposition and preferred the American military presence in the region.[7]

b- The Iranian nuclear program: The program was launched by the help of the US as part of the Shah’s vision to transform Iran into a major regional power. The Shah was supported by the US to strengthen his rule over the country and lead Iran towards comprehensive progress and development. This was accompanied by a high level of political and strategic cooperation between the two countries, especially that the Shah was a major US ally in its cold war with the Soviet Bloc[8]. It is said that the  US-Iranian cooperation to launch a nuclear program was initiated as part of the Atoms for Peace program* when Iran signed a 10-year agreement with the US in 1957 for nuclear cooperation for a civil nuclear program. Under this program Iran received technical nuclear support from the US and several kilograms of enriched uranium for research purposes. The two countries also worked closely to conduct research related to the civil applications of nuclear power.[9]In 1979, this cooperation came to an end, and the new revolutionary power paid no attention at all to the nuclear program in the first years after the revolution. This was not only due to the nature of priorities that the new regime had to deal with, especially in relation to safeguarding the revolution and advocating its principles in the Islamic world, but was also explained by certain beliefs by the leaders of the revolution (especially Khomeini) that do not place much interest in pursuing nuclear power. The leadership of the country probably did not realize then the importance of possessing nuclear capabilities[10]. Nevertheless, Iran resumed its nuclear program soon after the eruption of war between Iran and Iraq. Soon afterwards, Iran escalated its nuclear efforts, mainly in order to complete the construction of Bushehr nuclear power plant, and settle certain disagreements with French companies, in addition to finding new paths of nuclear cooperation with other countries. Iran depended heavily then on the Soviet Union and China when it failed to resume its cooperation with Western European countries[11]. Since then Iran endeavored to have the infrastructure that would enable it to conduct advanced nuclear research. The government secretly established nuclear plants in different regions in the countries, considering the possibility of any military attacks against them[12]. It is well-known that the then Iranian president Ahmadinejad insisted on going forward with the Iranian nuclear project for several reasons[13]:

  1. Iran has ambitions to possess nuclear powers for civil uses in order to increase its share of oil exports that generate hard currency.
  2. Iran aims at benefiting from the advanced nuclear technologies in order to enhance its own national experts in the field
  3. Iran has the right- as per the non-proliferation agreement- to enrich uranium locally in order to achieve self0sufficiency and avoid seeking foreign help that would usually require certain political concessions.
  4. Iran has incurred huge expenses to establish its own nuclear infrastructure for civil purposes, and this achievement is a symbol for dignity and glory for the Iranian nation.
  5. Iran’s possession of civil nuclear capabilities is a right for the Iranian people, whether at the time of the Shah or today.

A Map indicating the most important Iranian nuclear installations[14]

Evidently there is concern among Arab and Gulf countries that Iran would possess a nuclear weapon, which might impact the stability of the region, and increase Iran’s influence in the Middle East, which might harm the interests of the Arab countries. This might eventually pose a major threat to the Arab regimes and the fabric of the Muslim nation as a whole, especially that Iran is historically driven by a wish to establish a Persian power that could compete with the rising Turkish power, especially when the AK Party in Turkey assumed power in 2002. While the Arab countries have no competing agenda to counter these threats, they have been-especially in the Gulf region- increasing their dependence on foreign countries through binary security agreements, and enhancing their military powers through huge arms deals, especially with the US, China, and some European countries. They have also been pushing to oppose Iran’s nuclear projects and weaken its abilities to enrich uranium, despite the fact that Iran declares that its program is for civil purposes only. The Arabs states realize that economic sanctions against Iran might also impact their own trade balance, but they are far more concerned with the security of the region which precedes any other issue in the current and future strategies.

  1. The Lausanne agreement in April 2, 2015. It is a framework agreement between Iran and a group of world powers (5+1) with a goal of finalizing the deal by June 30, 2015 in order to reach a settlement regarding the Iranian nuclear program. These diplomatic efforts began in 2003 with the negotiations with three European powers (Germany-Britain- France) and went through several phases, most notably the Tehran deal on October 21, 2003 then the Paris agreement on November 7, 2004. After that there were several rounds of negotiations since January 2005 until the end of that year. Iran showed a great deal of perseverance and rejected most of the European suggestions, not only because they deny Iran’s right to enrich uranium but also because they completely strip it of this right, and therefore these negotiations were meaningless for Iran, since enriching uranium is an unquestionable right for Iranians, granted by the non-proliferation agreement in addition to being a national necessity.[15]The talks came to a halt in 2005, and Iran requested to widen the scope of negotiations, and include the US, Russia, and China to the group, and the European efforts became part and parcel of the 5+1 efforts.[16]As the negotiations growing larger, the US direct involvement was imminent, and that coincided with a change in the State Secretary when John Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton, which marked a stage in adopting diplomacy to tackle the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. This reminds us of the negotiations with North Korea in 1994 and the framework agreement that guaranteed the closure of Yongbyon nuclear facility until its reopening in 2002. The Korean example provided some hopes that the issue with Iran would follow the same course and arrive at a solution short of a military intervention.

Iran faced a series of economic sanctions and the whole region witnessed dramatic changes after the Arab Spring revolts. The diplomatic efforts faltered, and the reason was the increasing distrust with the European mediators or the Turkish-Brazilian mediators, especially during the presidency of Ahmadenejad. Between the years 2010-2012 there was a period of silence regarding the nuclear program of Iran, while the US and the Iranians were hoping to find a mediator that could revive the faltering diplomacy. The search for a mediator was bound with the impact of the sanctions on the Iranian economy[17] and the Western and American expectations. This coincided with the end of Nejad’s term as president, followed by Hassan Rouhani. This brought some change in attitudes and the US and its allies were encouraged to resume negotiations[18]. At this point, it was evident that this issue shall only be settled through direct negotiations between the US and Iran in addition to the role of the other major powers.

The initial agreement in Geneva in November 2013 was a practical evidence that mediators would only create an atmosphere of trust to engage the parties in direct negotiations. Oman played a role in this, especially between Washington and Tehran. The Omani mediation was vital in building sufficient trust between Iran and the US, and that was absent in the negotiations round since 2003. Since 2013, the Iranians and Americans involved in direct dialogues until they reached an agreement on April 2015, as a step towards signing the final agreement on June 30, but that was deferred to July 14, 2015.

There are five major points in the Lausanne agreement:

  • Sanctions Relief: The major powers, and the EU will lift economic sanctions against Iran including lifting the ban on Iranian oil exports. This shall be conditioned by the degree of Iran’s commitment to the conditions of the nuclear agreement.
  • Iran as per the blueprint agreement shall reduce its assets of low-enriched uranium from 10000 kg to 300 kg.
  • Iran shall be allowed to enrich uranium up to 3.67% for at least 15 years. The enrichment shall also be conducted at Natanz nuclear facility and not Fordow.
  • The complete supply chain of Iran’s nuclear complex will be subject to inspection by international monitors for 25 years.
  • Iran commits to refrain from enriching plutonium to a degree where it could be used to manufacture a nuclear bomb at Arak facility.
  • The US sanctions against Iran that are related to terrorism, human rights violations, and ballistic missiles shall remain imposed. The US and EU sanctions shall be lifted once the IAEA confirms that Iran respected its commitments, and they shall be re-imposed shall Iran violates the terms of the agreement.


All the sanctions against Iran were supposed to be lifted once Iran adheres to the agreement, therefore the Gulf states were concerned that this would bolster the Iranian position in the region and increase its influence while exposing the Gulf counties, especially Saudi Arabia.


4- The Iranian rule in fueling the sectarian conflict in the region: especially following the US invasion of Iraq. Iran proposed to establish an Islamic Middle East to stand against the US interference in the region after it had invaded Iraq in 2003. The Iranian project is based on two elements: the ideology which believes that a global Islamic rule is imminent, and that Iran shall be a major power in this rule, as expressed in the Iranian constitution. The second is a strategic one, related to Iran’s attempts to securing itself against its opponents that might think of keeping it under tight control through its neighbors.[19]The Iranian presence in the Arab countries boomed after the US invasion of Iraq, and gained leverage in Iraq through acting as representative of Shii or Kurdish groups. This enabled Iran to form connection with several political actors in Iraq, especially some military groups and other involved in politics. This also secured Iran some economic deals in oil drilling and investment projects. There was increased trade activity between the two countries, and Iran pushed some Iraqi parties to oppose the security agreement with the US. It also endeavored to increase its cultural presence in Iraq through building hospitals, schools, mosques, and teaching Persian language in several areas in Iraq, especially in Basra, where Iranians even encouraged people to demand its independence to a be a separate region similar to what happened with Iraqi Kurdistan in the north.

The Iranian influence is also evident in the support provided to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which paved the way to Iran to be a vital player in all the major crises in Lebanon. Iran also increases its sway through establishing development organizations in Lebanon aimed for instance to help the people who lost their homes after the Israeli strikes in 2006. This gave Iran an advantage when the US and the EU and Israel contemplated the stance regarding Iran. The same goes for Yemen, since Iran provided huge support for the Houthis in the northern parts of the country and endorsed their ambitions to separate from Yemen, especially when it openly criticized Yemen and Saudi Arabia for the operations against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran also condemned Operation Decisive Storm led by SA against the Houthis in Yemen, saying that this operation is considered an unnecessary interference in the country. Iran is also accused by the Gulf countries of sectarian instigation, especially in Bahrain, Kuwait, and SA, since the Iranian media outlets call the Shiite groups in these countries to stand against the regimes, using the arguments of liberation and freedoms, and these calls coincided with the revolutions erupted in several Arab countries.


Second:  The Demands of the Different Parties in the 2nd Camp David Summit

The US: Obama invited the leaders of the GCC to attend the Camp David summit since he is aware of their dissatisfaction with the policies his administration pursue in the region, especially in relation to the nuclear program of Iran, and the foreign policies the administration adopts regarding major security issues in the region, especially in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Libya, in addition of course of the Palestinian issue[20]. President Obama believed that it was time to inform his allies of the details of the nuclear agreement reached with Iran in April 2015, to assure them of the consequences of the agreement, especially that the West was set to sign the final agreement with Iran in June 2015. The region should be set to accept this agreement that would mark the beginning of a new phase in the ME. This final agreement was signed in July 15, 2015, and that was considered a historical achievement for the Obama administration before leaving the oval office, as the presidential elections shall be held in November 2016.

Obama chose Camp David as the avenue for the summit since this place is linked in the minds of the Arabs with “negotiations” and “peace talks”. Camp David is where the peace conference between Egypt and Israel was held in 1978, and where a Palestinian-Israeli summit was held in 2000.

The Gulf Countries: The GCC states came attended the summit hoping to achieve a number of demands:

First: The Adversary with Iran

The Gulf leaders saw in the Lausanne agreement a direct threat to the interests of their states, and therefore they felt the need to contain the possible negative impacts of the agreements on their interests. They were also trying to get major and effective security guarantees to counter the Iranian threats that have been increasing especially in recent years[21]. The Gulf countries were seeking the support of the US to preserve the balance of powers in the region, and that shall only happen of the Gulf states get as much of the deal as Iranians. That does not mean that the region shall witness a race to possess nuclear technologies, but if Iran has the right to have nuclear capabilities for civil purposes so do the Gulf countries, and that would preserve the equilibrium of powers in the region.

Second: The Security of Gulf

The Gulf counties share very long borders with Iraq in the north and Yemen in the south, and both countries are in a very fragile security situation. Iraq has been witnessing chronic turmoil since the US invasion in 2003, in addition to sectarian strives that couldn’t be ignored. The situation there exacerbated when ISIL fighters took over the largest cities on the north (Mosul) last summer.

Yemen is also undergoing a similar situation, although the situation on the ground has worsen since the Houthis took control of the state buildings and issued a constitutional declaration on February 2015, which was considered a coup against the legitimate authority in the country and a threat to the national and regional security, which called for an intervention led by Saudi Arabia to restore legitimacy for the Yemeni people and compel the rebels to go back to negotiations.

Iran’s role was devastating in both countries and led to increased instability that would eventually affect the Gulf countries and the region as a whole.

Therefore the Gulf states demand a guarantee to their security through achieving the stability in the neighboring countries. Here fits in the demand presented to Obama that his administration should work closely with the Gulf states to achieve the security and stability of the region, and this should be a real commitment by the US through a formal agreement. Yousef al-Otaibi, the UAE ambassador to the US said that the GCC states were trying to receive guarantees from the US to counter the hostility of Iran in the region other than the oral guarantees by the US. We are now looking for a formal institutional agreement.”

This means that the Gulf states raised the ceiling of their demands which put Obama’s credibility on test. It is not expected that Obama agrees to this demand, and he shall not even condescend to a “real security agreement”, and if this happens it would be a huge surprise, since this shall be in contradiction with his stated policies. Additionally, Obama could not meet these demands due to the many obstacles that would make it impossible to realize. It is evident by now that it is perilous to trust the promises of the Obama administration, and that this administration demonstrates certain mysterious inclination towards Iran, on which it is now bidding. Even if the US agrees to grant the Gulf states a formal security agreement, it will be useful then to read the agreements that the US signed before with other countries, such as Ukraine in 1994, but in return the latter had to give up its nuclear arsenal. It is clear today that the security agreements between the US and Ukraine were not so helpful when Russia invaded its lands, and the US hasn’t yet provided military aid to Ukraine to face the Russian aggression.


Third: Seeking just solutions for the conflicts in the region

The region of the Middle East since the eruption of the Arab Spring protests in 2010 has been in a state of turmoil, especially in Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. The Camp David summit also coincides with the 76th commemoration of the Nakba Day.

Due to the changes and developments in the region Saudi Arabia felt that it should assume a more significant role in leadership in the region, especially after the involvement of a younger generation in ruling the Kingdom. Therefore, the message of the Gulf leaders to the Obama administration is that they shall be able to take matter in their own hands to solve the problems of the region, and that the role of the US shall from now on be a supportive role, and never the role of the “savior” for the Gulf countries. This is evident in the declaration made in Washington on March 26, 2015 that Saudi Arabia shall form an international coalition to face the Houthis in Yemen and restore legitimacy in the country. This clearly indicates the willingness of the Gulf leaders to take initiative and shoulder responsibility to counter any imminent threat to their security and interests.[22]



Third: Camp David Summit Highlights

It should be obvious that the first message taken by Obama is the fact that the summit was only attended by the rulers of Kuwait and Qatar, while SA, Bahrain, UAE, and Oman were represented by junior leaders, and there are some of the reasons why this happened[23]:

  1. Some believe that the Gulf leaders were disappointed in Washington when it forged a deal with Iran. The US has turned its back on its traditional allies in the Gulf to secure a deal with the Iranians before Obama concludes his term as president.
  2. The Gulf countries are no longer bound to the US orders, and they proved their ability to conduct military operations without the help of the US.[24]

There are some issues that were set on the agenda of the summit which include:

a- The Iranophobia and anti-Iranian sentiments and concerns by the Gulf countries.

b- The Iranian nuclear program and the Gulf concern with the aftermath of signing an agreement with Iran and lifting the sanctions against it.

c- The terrorism problem and discussing the priorities in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. Some Arab countries believe the priority should be given to overthrow the Assad regime in order to tackle terrorist groups. The developments in Yemen and the airstrikes of the Saudi-led coalition that target the Houthis, who are believed to be directly used by Iran were discussed. The complicated situation in Iraq and the scenarios there were also among the topics tackled in the summit.

d- Enhancing the military cooperation between the US and the Gulf states, especially by helping them establish a defense system against any possible Iranian missile attacks. This also includes new arms deals and mutual military training programs, in addition to discussing the role of the Saudi-led coalition after the Yemeni crisis.

The parties during the summit reached at the following:

1- The joint statement concentrated on the strong relations between the US and the Gulf states, and reiterated the US commitment to protect the Gulf against any act of hostility or terror, stressing the sanctity of their sovereignty. The statement also sent a clear message to Iran that the US and the Gulf states have agreed to establish a regional defense system against Ballistic missiles, including an early-alarm system in addition to mutual military drills to train against non-conventional threats such as terrorism and cyber-attacks, in addition to increased cooperation in maritime security.

The statement unequivocally said: “he United States policy to use all elements of power to secure our core interests in the Gulf region, and to deter and confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War, is unequivocal.” It also says in another paragraph: “In the event of such aggression or the threat of such aggression, the United States stands ready to work with our GCC partners to determine urgently what action may be appropriate, using the means at our collective disposal, including the potential use of military force, for the defense of our GCC partners.” [25]

In regards to Iran’s movements in the region the statement said: “The United States and GCC member states oppose and will work together to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and stressed the need for Iran to engage the region according to the principles of good neighborliness, strict non-interference in domestic affairs, and respect for territorial integrity, consistent with international law and the United Nations Charter, and for Iran to take concrete, practical steps to build trust and resolve its differences with neighbors by peaceful means.”[26]

This clearly indicates that the Gulf states received unequivocal reassurances from the US to protect its national security against the Iranian interferences, but that was short of deterring the Iranian influence in the region.

It could be said that the Camp David summit highlighted the shift in the US-GCC relations since the Arab Spring. It was a chance to convey to the US what GCC states wish to receive from the Obama administration before he leaves office, which is more than just sending strong messages to Iran. The US in the summit has not provided anything that binds Iran, or obligates the US to bind Iran with.

The US administration also believes that the real threat facing the Gulf states is not Iran, despite all the talks about the responsibility of Iran in disturbing the stability in the Gulf. Obama said in an interview with Thomas Freidman prior to the summit that what the GCC countries need is strengthening their own governance institutions and structures in such a way that would offer the young people of the Sunni Arab states options other than joining ISIL. Obama suggested in the interview that internal discontent among the people in these countries is much greater threat than Iran. Although the closing statement of the summit does not touch on this issue, the media outlets tried to bring more attention to it, and several newspapers in the Gulf criticized Obama for making such comments.[27]

As for the commitments of the GCC countries the statements said: “The leaders decided to enhance their counter-terrorism cooperation on shared threats, particularly ISIL/DAESH and Al-Qa’ida, to deter and disrupt terrorist attacks with a focus on protecting critical infrastructure, strengthening border and aviation security, combating money laundering and terrorist financing, interdicting foreign fighters, and countering violent extremism in all its forms.”

Accordingly, it could be argued that what really worries the Gulf leaders is Obama’s stance and his equivocation in regards to Iran, especially in light of his unwillingness to sign a defense agreement with the Gulf states, and he even openly said right after the summit that the “purpose of security cooperation is not to perpetuate any long-term confrontation with Iran or even to marginalize Iran. None of our nations have an interest in an open-ended conflict with Iran.”

Since the deal with Iran in its final form would guarantee its right to retain its nuclear infrastructure and the centrifuges that have limited ability to enrich uranium for 15 years, and since Iran’s nuclear know-how that would enable it to enrich uranium will enable it to produce a nuclear bomb in the future if it decides to do so, some Gulf states hinted at the possibility of pursuing their own nuclear projects. Obama fears that the region risks a nuclear arms race, especially the SA promised to match any nuclear capabilities Iran might acquire. While the Obama administration is concerned with a nuclear arms race, it does not provide sufficient guarantees to its Gulf allies to protect against any Iranian nuclear threats in the future.[28]


2- As for the regional issues, the joint statement laid down clear boundaries regarding the regional balance of power, cutting the way to the attempts to drastically change them. The joint statement says: the leaders “decided on a set of common principles, including a shared recognition that there is no military solution to the regions’ armed civil conflicts, which can only be resolved through political and peaceful means; respect for all states’ sovereignty and non-interference in their internal affairs; the need for inclusive governance in conflict-ridden societies; as well as protection of all minorities and of human rights.” This means that the strategy is to deal with each situation in the region separately and not comprehensively, and that ultimately shift the balance in favor of Iran, only attempting to fix this through non-military means. This is especially evident in relation to the developments in Iraq: “The United States and GCC member states further affirmed their commitment to assisting the Iraqi government and the international coalition in their fight against ISIL/DAESH.  They stressed the importance of strengthening ties between GCC member states and the Iraqi government, based on the principles of good neighborliness, non-interference in internal affairs, and respect for state sovereignty. They encouraged the Iraqi government to achieve genuine national reconciliation by urgently addressing the legitimate grievances of all components of Iraqi society through the implementation of reforms agreed upon last summer and by ensuring that all armed groups operate under the strict control of the Iraqi state.” This means that the leaders recognized the status quo present currently in Iraq, which is more or less favorable to Iran. The policy of double containment of Iran and Iraq, which was adopted by George W. Bush in 2003 has come to an end, and the Camp David summit has established the new geopolitical reality, slightly advancing the position of the Gulf states, but never will isolate Iran or drag Washington to counter its movements in Iraq.[29]

On the other hand, SA got its prize in Yemen: “With regard to Yemen, both the United States and GCC member states underscored the imperative of collective efforts to counter Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, and emphasized the need to rapidly shift from military operations to a political process, through the Riyadh Conference under GCC auspices and UN-facilitated negotiations based on the GCC initiative, National Comprehensive Dialogue outcomes, and the Security Council’s relevant resolutions. Taking into consideration the humanitarian needs of civilians, they welcomed the start of a five-day humanitarian pause to facilitate delivery of relief assistance to all those in need and expressed hope it would develop into a longer, more sustainable ceasefire.  They expressed their appreciation for the generous grant of $274 million provided by Saudi Arabia for the UN humanitarian response in Yemen. The United States reaffirmed its commitment, in partnership with GCC member states and other members of the international community, to seek to prevent the resupply of Houthi forces and their allies in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 2216.” This statement was a clear indication that Obama’s administration intends to support Saudi Arabia which is concerned that the deteriorating situation in Yemen would endanger its national security.

As for the war in Syria, Obama assured his Gulf allies of his opinion regarding the future of Assad, while identifying at the same time the prospects of the future solution for the crisis there: “he leaders committed to continue working towards a sustainable political resolution in Syria that ends the war and establishes an inclusive government that protects all ethnic and religious minorities, and preserves state institutions. They reaffirmed that Assad has lost all legitimacy and has no role in Syria’s future. They strongly supported increased efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL/DAESH in Syria and warned against the influence of other extremist groups, such as Al-Nusrah, that represent a danger to the Syrian people, to the region and to the international community. They expressed deep concern over the continuing deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria and condemned the prevention of aid distribution to the civilian population by the Assad regime or any other party.” Although the leaders agreed to join in the fight against terrorism in Syria and supporting the moderate opposition with the aim of arriving at the transitional period that excludes the Assad, they differed on the mechanism of supporting the armed Syrian opposition movements. Washington has certain concerns regarding providing certain types of weapons to the fighters, especially anti-tank missiles, for fear that these arms fall in the hands of extremists from ISIL and Nusra. The US stand on this issue pushed the Gulf leaders to coordinating efforts with Turkey last month. The convergence of the position between Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia accomplished two important things in Syria: the first is uniting the moderate Syrian opposition groups (The Free Syrian Army, and nine other military groups, including the Nusra front which was classified a terrorist group, but under a different name- Fath Army. The second is supplying these groups with heavy arms that Washington refrained from providing, especially the anti-tank missiles (TOW).[30]

On Lebanon, the joint statement was typical and mild, without taking sides to either camps, acknowledging the present balance of power in the country. The statement said: “The leaders expressed their concern over the delay in electing a new president of Lebanon, called on all parties to strengthen Lebanese state institutions, and emphasized the critical importance of Lebanon’s parliament moving forward to elect a president of the Lebanese Republic in accordance with the constitution. The leaders also emphasized their determination to support the Government of Lebanon in its resistance to ISIL/DAESH and Al-Nusrah which threaten Lebanon’s security and stability.”

In short, the joint statement clarifies the regional roles of the parties concerned. Iran is wielding influence in Iraq, and its role in a political solution in Syria is implicitly acknowledged, and the same goes for its presence in Lebanon. The statement acknowledges the Saudi role in Yemen, leaving the door open for a political solution in Syria through Gulf-Turkish cooperation under certain American conditions.

The leaders pledged to meet once again in 2016 in order to deepen U.S.-GCC relations on these and other issues in order to build an even stronger, enduring, and comprehensive strategic partnership.[31]

This summit is exceptionally important and significant, although its importance is not due to its results in as much in its ability to reflect the concerns of the Gulf states regarding the burning issues in the region and the sectarian war that was fueled by certain policies that exploit radical religious opinions. It also confirms the limits of the US influence and will, especially that the summit fell short of arriving at a framework treaty or agreement between the GCC states and US to further the level of cooperation to a higher level.[32]


Fourth: The Future of the Arab Gulf After Camp David

The Gulf states after the nuclear deal with Iran (which is signed in Vienna on 14 July 2015) leaves the Gulf states strategically exposed. This dilemma has three main dimensions:[33]

 1- Iraq does not play part in the current balance of powers in the region since the US invasion in 2003.

2- The nuclear deal with Iran indicates that the Gulf states could not endlessly depend on the US role to counter the Iranian threat. The deal with Iran although it does not include an agreement on some other regional issues that Iranian were seeking to bring to the negotiations, especially in regards to it role in the region, it is still impacts the political and strategic situation. It is expected that the US-Iran rapprochement will not be limited to the nuclear program, but could also include some level of cooperation related to security issues in the Gulf and the ME in general.

3- The Gulf bid on Turkey to balance the situation against Iran is vanishing away due to the differences among the major Gulf players and Turkey on the Arab Spring revolts, especially the situation in Egypt. This created a huge gap with Ankara that left the latter willing to reconsider its regional policies instead of responding to the demands of the Gulf. The coming period could even witness a further rapprochement between Turkey and Iran.

2- The Obama administration implicitly told the Gulf leaders that protecting their interests and defending their sovereignty is their own responsibility and depends on their capabilities. The role of the US is merely supplementary. That is why the Gulf leaders were upset by the US policies in the region, and their increased concern in relation to the negotiations with Iran. This means that the Gulf states should take initiative without requiring permissions from the US, exactly as they did in Yemen.

3- The Gulf states realized after the summit that the Obama administration is only concerned with finalizing the nuclear deal with Iran, which ultimately makes it a partner in the war against ISIL. To achieve this the US is willing to, at least temporarily- overlook Iran’s troubling activities in the Arab world. Obama is seeking to get the support of the Gulf countries in convincing the Congress in accepting this policy, and pushing for reconciliation with Iran and avoiding escalation against its policies in the region.

4- Although the US hugely benefited from the summit in terms of arms sales, which keeps the Gulf countries the largest importers of arms in the world, this will in part help the Islamic militias that were created as a reaction to the US military role in the Gulf. The US under the new cooperation agreement is not obliged to interfere in more than defending the Gulf from a blatant external aggression. It will not involve in struggles for influence in Yemen, while it will only target Al Qaeda and ISIL on a limited scale.

The US attitudes towards the region have changed and the bid today is different than that of the 1990’s[34]. The US does not enjoy the same degree of credibility it used to have, and the Camp David summit does not change much in the relations between the US and the GCC countries, especially that the joint statement was too vague in terms of taking any actions to face Iran’s troubling activities in the region.[35]

5- The future of the Gulf security is at stake now after the signing of the Geneva deal on 14 July 2015. Iran has become a regional power that couldn’t be ignored, and should be taken into consideration in any future arrangements and strategies, which further complicates the Iran-Gulf relations.

There are two possible paths the relations between these countries could take[36], the first is escalation as it is the traditional patter that govern the relations with Iran due to its policies in the region, and the second is the possibility of alleviating the tensions and forming a pragmatic coalition with Iran and the Gulf states that include Saudi Arabia in order to face common threats. This possibility is conditioned by Iran’s willingness to rapprochement with the Gulf states, and tone down the sectarian discourse in relation to the regional problems, especially in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, and seeking other peaceful ways to solve them. Although Iran has recently announced on August 3 2015 that it is considering certain “initiatives” to enhance its relations with the Arab countries, the situation requires some time to evaluate and identify the real future intentions of Iran.

The positions of the Gulf countries will also impact the future of relations with Iran. It should be noted here that not all the Gulf countries share the same amount of enmity with Iran. Some are extremely critical to Iran such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, while other are less hostile like the UAE and Qatar, and the relations are quite fine with Oman. Additionally, and in light of the awaited boom in the Iranian economy after the nuclear deal, the economic interests and trade between Iran and the Gulf states will play a major role in alleviating the tensions. The Gulf could particularly benefit from reviving economic relations with Iran, especially in investments, since Iran is a huge market full of investment opportunities. Gas is also a critical factor here, since the Gulf states, except for Qatar, will need to import Gas to meet the local demands of energy, and that explains why the Emir of Kuwait was keen on signing six MOC during his visit to Tehran in June 2014 on various economic areas.[37]

6- King Salman bin Abdulaziz bid a visit to Washington earlier on September after signing the nuclear deal with Iran. This visit is the first of the Saudi monarch since he ascended the throne in January 2015. The visit came as a pragmatic response from the two countries. The Kingdom is keen on getting  guarantees to ensure Iran does not have a nuclear weapon in the future, and demanding Washington to exert more efforts to contain Iran’s lethal activities in the region, while acquiring more logistical and intelligence support in the military campaign it leads in Yemen. The Saudi monarch was also pushing for an increased engagement by the US in Syria that goes beyond targeting ISIL and leaving Assad. Saudi Arabia realized that the nuclear deal is inevitable, and therefore it will be useless to keep pushing against it.[38]

On the other hand, the Obama administration was trying to amass all kind of support to face those who oppose the deal with Iran in the Congress through neutralizing the Gulf in this regard, which eventually happened in the Doha talks last August on the level of foreign ministers, and was further enhanced in the last US-Saudi summit, which is vital to the success of the deal with Iran.

Therefore, while Washington was trying to secure the deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia wanted to forge a new strategic and security relation with the US that helps SA counter the Iranian threats that directly endangers the Gulf countries.

The most important outcome of this summit is King’s Salman support for the deal with Iran according to the official statement after the summit: “King Salman expressed his support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the P5 + 1 countries, which once fully implemented will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and thereby enhance security in the region.”[39]Adel al-Jubair said: “Mr. Obama had reassured the king that the Iran deal would prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon….Now we have one less problem to deal with, with regard to Iran, and we can now focus more on their nefarious activities in the region.”[40]This reflects the concern by SA and other Gulf countries that Iran shall use its frozen assets that will be released after the deal in order to create more troubles in the region.

7- The Gulf states should make quick steps to turn the council into a union. This was the wish of the late king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in 2011, which was not realized due to Oman’s reservations, in addition to the Shiite opposition in Bahrain. Iran at that time dismissed this ambition then an unrealistic.



It clear by now that the US-GCC relations are currently strained, and the situation will remain so for some time on short run, due to the seriousness of the disagreements on different strategic issues, and the gap between the two sides in relation to the interests and alliances in the region. Therefore, the future of the relationship between the US and its Gulf partners will be ultimately governed by the US intentions regarding changing some regimes in the region, under the pretense of protecting human rights. This will also be influenced by the degree of success the Saudis achieve in Yemen, which, shall it be realized, change the current political calculations in the Arab region and allow the Arab people to have some hope in a brighter future. The leaders of the Gulf countries also need to arrive at a hard agreement with the US that will guarantee the status of the GCC that could not be traded with Iran. The Syrian crisis should also be solved in a manner that realize the aspirations of the Syrian people in establishing a state governed by the rule of law and values political diversity. There remains a thorny issue related to human rights, which causes a lot of controversy in the US and the EU. This issue should be tackled very transparently with the US to arrive at a basic understanding in this regard, especially that improving relations with the two sides require fulfilling some conditions and commitments by the Congress and the European Parliament which dictate that the relations with the GCC countries shall be conditioned by the degree to which these states respect human rights without any consideration for the decades-long relations between the two sides. The coming period abounds with changes and challenges in the region, especially in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. It will be a decisive period, not only for the Gulf countries, but also for the political regimes, unless the US shifts its attitudes towards the alliance with Iran in order to preserve its strategic interests with the Gulf countries.



The Gulf countries shall consider the following steps shall the US Congress endorses the nuclear deal with Iran:

  • Take concrete steps in establishing the Joint GCC Defense agreement: This step has become very critical due to the developments in the region. If achieving a full-scale integration on all levels, as previously proposed by Saudi Arabia, then at least a joint defense agreement with among the Gulf countries is indispensible to face the current challenges. It is also a much needed step that would require some sacrifices in order to build a joint defense system that could face the common threats facing the GCC countries.
  • Obtaining nuclear power for civil purposes: acquiring the nuclear technologies in the GCC countries is vital to deter the Iranian ambitions. The GCC countries already stated their interest in pursuing civil nuclear project, since the year 2006, without any major steps in this regards, except for the UAE which is leading the Gulf and the rest of the Arab world in this respect.

Achieving this will require the following:

a- providing support for the Arab Agency for Atomic Energy and the involvement of all Arab countries in its activities

b- establishing an Arab training institute in nuclear energy and providing it with financial and human resources

c- supporting the AAEA to hold workshops and training programs in the security of nuclear facilities

d- developing the education programs in the fields of nuclear energy in the Arab world

e- establishing joint projects among the Arab countries in nuclear energy, and adopting a standard model for nuclear establishments to reduce design and constructions costs, in addition to training Arab professionals to work in these fields

f- raising awareness in the Arab communities regarding the importance of nuclear power and plants

If the circumstances and developments in the region require the GCC countries to open up in their relations with Iran and start a sort of constructive dialogue regarding the thorny issues between the two sides, then this scenario shall never be fruitful for the Gulf states unless they obtain some power that enables them to vilify their stances regarding these issues. It is true that the GCC countries are far behind in this regard, but that is why they should not waste more time in summits diplomacy, and to take concrete steps that are more necessary now than ever before.


Refrences :

[1] Mark Lander- Rice Offers a More Modest Strategy for Mideast, The New York Times.Oct.26,2013

[2] وليد عبد الحي، الوطن العربي 2014: المزيد من التفكك، مركز الجزيرة للدراسات، 13 يناير 2014.

[3] وليد عبد الحي، الوطن العربي 2014: المزيد من التفكك، مرجع سابق.

[4] إسماعيل صبري مقلد، "مسألة أمن الخليج الأبعاد الاستراتيجية والسياسية"، (القاهرة، السياسة الدولية، أكتوبر 1982)، ص

[5] وليد محمد عامر، أثر الوجود العسكري الأمريكي والمتغيرات الداخلية والإقليمية على السياسة الخارجية الإيرانية في منطقة الخليج، رسالة دكتوراه غير منشورة، القاهرة، معهد البحوث والدراسات العربية، 2007، ص.ص 169-171.

[6] منصور حسن العتيبي، السياسة الإيرانية تجاه دول مجلس التعاون الخليجي (1979-2000)، دبي، مركز الخليج للأبحاث، الطبعة الأولى، 2008.

[7] طلعت أحمد مسلم، الوجود العسكري الأجنبي في الوطن العربي، بيروت، مركز دراسات الوحدة العربية، 1994، ص 286

[8] د. أحمد إبراهيم محمود، البرنامج النووي الإيراني: آفاق الأزمة بين التسوية الصعبة ومخاطر التصعيد، القاهرة: مركز الدراسات السياسية والإستراتيجية بالأهرام، سبتمبر 2005، ص51

[9] Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Mission for my Country, London: Hutchinson, 1961, PP 307-308.

[10] د. أحمد إبراهيم محمود، البرنامج النووي الإيراني: آفاق الأزمة بين التسوية الصعبة ومخاطر التصعيد، مرجع سابق، ص 51 -52

[11] Ibid. 61

[12] عصام عبد الشافي، أزمة البرنامج النووي الإيراني: المحددات – التطورات السياسات (دراسة في إدارة الأزمات الدولية)، مرجع سابق، ص 25

[13] د.درية شفيق بسيوني، إسرائيل والدائرة الخليجية: حتميات الأيديولوجيات وبرجماتيات المصالح، شؤون خليجية، القاهرة، عدد60، شتاء 2010، ص21

[14] Olli Heinonen and Simon Henderson, Iran's Nuclear Installations 2015, The Washington Institute for near East Policy,6 April 2015,

[15] أحمد إبراهيم محمود، البرنامج النووي الإيراني: آفاق الأزمة بين التسوية الصعبة ومخاطر التصعيد، مرجع سابق، ص 248

[16] د.رانية محمد طاهر، السلاح النووي بين مبادئ الشرعية الدولية وحتميات القوة: دراسة مقارنة للسياسات النووية لكل من إيران وكوريا الشمالية، القاهرة، المكتب العربي للمعارف، 2014.

[17] The sanctions have been devastating for the Iranian Riyal, and the currency is said to have devalued to more than 80% between 2011 and 2012. Iran was also banned from exporting almost 80% of oil, depriving it of more than 53 billion dollars. The oil production in Iran fell to 2.5 million barrel a day in 2012 while it was 4.2 million barrel in 2008, which naturally decreased the exportation of oil to less than a million barrel in the summer of 2012 while it was 2.5 barrel a day in 2011.

[18] شحاته محمد ناصر، السياسة الخارجية الإيرانية في عهد الرئيس حسن روحاني: حدود التأثير وأهم الملامح، سلسلة دراسات استراتيجية، أبوظبي: مركز الإمارات للدراسات والبحوث الاستراتيجية، عدد (191)، الطبعة الأولى، 2014، ص58.


[19] د. محمد السعيد عبد المؤمن، هل تورطت إيران في الأزمة اللبنانية؟، مختارات إيرانية، العدد 73، أغسطس 2006، ص37-39.

[20] د. جمال عبد الله، آمال وتطلعات دول الخليج من قمة كامب ديفيد، مركز الجزيرة للدراسات، 12 مايو 2015.

[21] علي باكير، على ماذا سيحصل العرب من أوباما في كامب دايفيد؟، صحيفة عربي 21، 9 مايو 2015:

[22] د. جمال عبد الله، آمال وتطلعات دول الخليج من قمة كامب ديفيد، مرجع سابق.

[23] الخليج وواشنطن.. خلاف الحلفاء، قناة روسيا اليوم، 13 مايو 2015:

[24] قمة كامب ديفيد: زعماء خليجيون يتغيبون "توبيخاً" لأوباما، موقع بي بي سي عربي، 12 مايو 2015،

[25] “Annex to U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council Camp David Joint Statement,” The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, May 14, 2015, at:; and “Remarks by President Obama in Press Conference after GCC Summit”.

[26] The US White House, U.S.- Gulf Cooperation Council Camp David Joint Statement, May 14, 2015

[27] See the full interview: "Iran and the Obama Doctrine", The NewYork Times, April 5,2015; Thomas O. Melia, "The Gulf Gulf", The Atlantic Council, May 12, 2015:

[28] Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David E. Sanger, “Obama Pledges More Military Aid to Reassure Persian Gulf Allies on Iran Deal”, The New York Times, May 14, 2015, at:

[29] د. مصطفى اللباد، قراءة في بيان البيت الأبيض و«مجلس التعاون» بعد كامب ديفيد، موقع الخليج الجديد، 18/5/2015،


[30] صافيناز محمد أحمد، قمة كامب ديفيد 2: مخاوف خليجية من الحليف الأمريكي، القاهرة: مركز الأهرام للدراسات السياسية والاستراتيجية، 26/5/2015

[31] التعاون الخليجي: هذا ما تم الاتفاق عليه بقمة كامب ديفيد، الخليج أونلاين، 15/5/2015،!/articles/1431684538526363500/


[32] عبد الله عبد الأمير، قراءة في البيان الختامي لقمة كامب ديفيد، بغداد: مركز البيان للدراسات والتخطيط، 15/5/2015:

[33] أشرف عبدالعزيز عبدالقادر، انكشاف استراتيجي:الخيارات الخليجية في التعامل مع تداعيات الاتفاق الإيراني النووي، مجلة السياسة الدولية،10 ديسمبر 2013

[34] شفيق ناظم الغبرا، ما بعد كامب ديفيد: تنافر وتفاهم وتناقض، جريدة الحياة، 21/5/2015

[35] Michael Eisenstadt, U.S.-GCC Relations: Closing the Credibility Gap, Policy Analysis, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, July 9, 2015,

[36] محمد بسيوني عبد الحليم، محاولات للطمأنة: العوامل الحاكمة للعلاقات الإيرانية-الخليجية بعد الاتفاق النووي، القاهرة: المركز الإقليمي للدراسات الاستراتيجية، 16/8/2015:

[37] أمير الكويت في زيارة تاريخية إلى إيران، فرانس 24، 2 يونيو 2014:

[38] هل بددت زيارة الملك سلمان لواشنطن هواجس السعودية؟، الدوحة: المركز العربي للأبحاث ودراسة السياسات، 10 سبتمبر 2015:


[39] “Joint Statement on the Meeting between President Barack Obama and King Salman bin Abd alAziz Al Saud”, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, September 4, 2015, at:

[40] Peter Baker, “Obama and Saudi King Sidestep Dispute Over Iran Nuclear Deal”, The New York Times, September 4, 2015, at:

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