Security featured heavily on the agenda of the December GCC summit that was held in Abu Dhabi. The official closing statement said the discussions had reviewed efforts to strengthen the peninsula’s joint defence force and the process of security coordination between the six member states, while reaffirming the council’s commitment to eliminate terrorism-related violence.
On Iran, the Supreme Council repeated its support for the UAE’s claim on three disputed islands occupied by the Islamic Republic, but in the same breath it maintained the importance of establishing good neighbourly relations, not interfering in internal affairs, and resolving disputes through peaceful means.
It also called upon Tehran to respond to Western efforts to resume talks over its nuclear programme. The summit came just weeks after possibly damaging comments purported to have been made by regional leaders were leaked from the US Foreign Office. Iran immediately dismissed their importance, and now so too has the GCC leadership. A potentially highly inflammatory situation has been diffused.
In early January, news emerged that Iran has invited foreign diplomats to visit its nuclear facilities. The invitation, Tehran says, is to demonstrate cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but equally it shows willingness to avoid conflict with its Gulf Arab neighbours.
The GCC and Iran have a complex and at times tense relationship, but neither, this episode has shown, are prepared to rock the boat too much. Regardless of what has reportedly been said in private, public positions remain unchanged. With trade between the two worth an estimated $11.4bn a year, there are several good reasons why.