Security tops the agenda at GCC-US summit

14 May 2015

Defence accord under discussion as US President Obama seeks to reassure GCC states of Washington’s support

  • GCC nations seek assurances from the US
  • Gulf states are looking to precure cutting edge weaponry
  • Summit will provide insight into the health of GCC-US relations

Security issues top the agenda at today’s GCC-US summit taking place at Camp David, near Washington.

Ahead of the meeting UAE ambassador Yousef al Otaiba told a Washington forum that GCC states were hoping to secure increased commitments from the US when it came to security.

“In the past we have survived with a gentleman’s agreement,” he said. “Now I think we need something in writing, something institutionalised.”

Though a comprehensive security accord is unlikely to be agreed at the summit, the US may well agree formal commitments to its GCC allies at the summit, according to those familiar with the region’s diplomatic processes.

“We may see a written statement where the US commits to taking certain actions if certain criteria are met,” says Richard Dalton, a fellow at Chatham House and a former British Ambassador to Libya and Iran.

“These could include, for example, the deployment of special forces if defined borders are crossed.”

Joint military exercises and increased support for naval forces in the Arabian Gulf are also likely to be discussed.

Gulf tensions

GCC governments have been unsettled over recent months by increasing dialogue and cooperation between Tehran and Washington, which was closely involved in the framework deal on the Iranian nuclear programme that was announced on 2 April.

Adding to concerns within the GCC, this agreement has come about amid an increase in the influence of Shia-aligned groups with links to Tehran in Syria and Yemen.

Regional integration

Regional military integration and arms deals are also likely to be on the agenda in Camp David, with US statements made ahead of the meeting indicating that it would like to see more cooperation between the GCC nations on defence issues.

While GCC nations are expected to pursue the procurement on cutting edge military technology they are unlikely to be given access to America’s most sophisticated weapons, like the F-35 fighter jets.

Notable absentees

Of the six GCC heads of state who were invited to Camp David only two, Kuwait and Qatar, are now due to attend the meeting, with the four other nations sending deputies.

This has been perceived as a snub by some Gulf-watchers, who say that senior political figures want to send a message to Washington to show displeasure about Obama’s increasing cooperation with Iran.

Others believe the ailing health of leaders in Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, mean that the countries have legitimate excuses for not sending their heads of state.

The outcome of the conference is likely to be a good indicator to the current status of the US-GCC relationship.

Speaking on Sky News ahead of the summit the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash highlighted the uncertainty about the current state of relations between Washington and the Gulf States.

“If the outcome of the meeting is a vague statement about the security of the region and talk about a defence system, then the results will be modest,” he said.

“The main problem in the relations between Iran and the Arab world is Iran’s wish for expansion. The nuclear agreement between Tehran and the West creates a new dynamism that, based on indications, is not in favour of the moderate camp in Iran. The nuclear agreement will help Iran expand internationally at the expense of the Arabs,”

Applying pressure

Some of those familiar with the problems faced by the region believe that the US has made a mistake by failing to apply enough pressure on the GCC states over their relations with other nations in the Gulf.

Richard Dalton believes that too little energy has been put into restoring a political dialogue with the GCC states and Iran.

“Obama should emphasise the need for Saudi Arabia and its GCC partners to engage Iran and Iraq in a multi-lateral security forum in order to reduce tensions, increase cooperation and improve the outlook for regional stability long term,” says Richard Dalton.

Dalton also believes that a diplomatic solution should have been sought to the delicate political situation in Yemen, instead of the Saudi-led military campaign that has failed to defeat the Houthi rebel forces and strengthened the hand of militant groups, like Al-Qaeda.

The outcome of the talks in Camp David is likely to give a good indication of whether the US is likely to ask for more from the GCC states in return for its military support.

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