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Trump, the GCC and Iran: How This Triangle Can Reshape the Middle East

While Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in the middle of his tour in three GCC countries – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani started a short visit to two other GCC countries: Oman and Kuwait.

The two Presidents were carrying two different message. Erdogan was focused on conveying the conclusions he extracted from his first high-level meeting with the Trump administration-that is the short visit of CIA director Mike Pompeo to Ankara, where he is thought to have delivered some new ideas concerning the kind of arrangement Washington envisages for Syria and the region.

Rouhani, on the other hand, was concerned with softly warning the GCC not to side with the US. The message, which Iranian officials are sending through multiple statements, is that US policy on the Gulf has never been consistent and that while Iran will remain a power to reckon with in the region, Washington, in the contrary, is the most unreliable ally and no one should believe that it remains committed to anything. Those words simply mean: Beware of siding with the US in its looming confrontation with Iran.

Oman’s Sultan court issued a statement prior to Rouhani’s arrival describing the visit’s agenda in normal protocol terms but adding that the leaders of the two countries will discuss “the extremely important developments happing in the region and the world now”. It was a clear consequence of Pompeo’s visit to both Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The visit points out the two pillars of the coming US regional policy.

In his part, Erdogan tweeted, after King Salman welcomed him in a Saudi airport, that all have to understand that things are changing. “It is time now to put our hands together for the sake of our region, the Islamic world, and indeed, all of humanity”. He urged regional powers to gather forces to fight terrorism, without forgetting, of course, to include the PKK and Fethullah Gulen supporters, side by side with ISIL and Al Qaeda.

The two visits come amid a general change in mood in the Middle East. A certain dynamic has been pushing forward, for few months now, in the direction of rebuilding the bridges between Saudi Arabia and the GCC on the one hand and Iran on the other, calming regional crises and building a real coalition to stop Iran’s intervention and terrorist organizations. Trump’s win of the last US Presidential elections further pushed this dynamic, even by only impacting it psychologically, as it gave the moment a strong air of change. The question now is to which extent will Washington be able to intentionally speed up this dynamic till it culminates in a regional security structure, hence ending an era of wars and upheaval.

The intentional input of Washington is indeed determinate in shaping this process. The US may increase pressure on Iran without a clear endgame goal, or it can, alternatively, target its day-to-day moves to speed-up the progress towards a clearly defined goal. In other words, the triangle made of the US, the GCC and Iran is indeed witnessing now some abrupt and deep shifts in the relative weights of its three parties. Where this change is heading is anybody’s guess.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi was quick in his response to the Arab offer, delivered by Kuwait’s Foreign Minister to Tehran during his early February’s visit to Tehran, to negotiate directly all the issues separating the two shores of the Gulf based on international laws as a reference.

However, Ghasemi was still defiant in his statements. “We may come to the conclusion that we should talk to Saudis but only when we feel that Saudi Arabia needs this dialogue and cooperation; if they want cordial relations, they should compensate for their past mistakes; the current tension in relations should be blamed on Saudis’ errors in developing a distorted understating of the image of the Islamic Republic of Iran; but if they embark on a constructive path, we would also respond positively”.

Saudi Arabia demands that Iran pulls its forces and militias out of all Arab countries, commit to a non-interventionist policy and drops its intimidation of neighbors through its missiles and military force.

While Iran flies, from time to time, some peace doves made of nice words, it has to understand that countries do not feed on words. If they do, the whole world would have been obese by now after eight years of Obama’s eloquent speeches. Rouhani can smilingly utter covered and diplomatically-worded promises and warnings. Yet, Iranian missiles are there, the Houthis are there, the attempts to control central Iraq are active and the rejection of any reasonable solution in Syria is also there. How would Saudi Arabia, UAE or any other Arab country embark on a constructive path while Iran’s intervention is encircling them from the north, the south and the east?

As the UK Prime Minister Theresa May said to Gulf leaders in their annual summit in Manama last December, the world knows who instigate troubles in the region. “Iranian’s influence fuels instability in the region. I am clear-eyed about the threat that Iran poses to the Gulf and the wider Middle East”, she said.

US pressure should be carefully measured to ease Iran’s moves, if possible, towards a regional security structure free of intervention and intimidation. If Iran proves too ideological and too stubborn to come to terms with the new realities the Omanis talked about, the level of pressure should be increased. The ultimate goal is regional peace, cooperation, respect of international laws and norms and a collective fight against terrorism and radicalism.

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