This year’s GCC summit, which just concluded this week in Riyadh, was meant to highlight the alliance’s unity in the face of rising tensions in the region. And it didn’t disappoint.
Gulf leaders showed serious resolve and portrayed a cohesive stance on key issues confronting their nations and the broader Middle East. In the final communique, the bloc underscored the importance of coordination aimed at achieving a unified and effective foreign policy that protects the interest of the Gulf peoples.
The main takeaway from the summit was the GCC urging Iran to take tangible measures to bring down tensions in the region. Gulf states also argued that they be included in negotiations being held on Iran’s nuclear programme between the Big Powers and Tehran.
The GCC took a dim view of the original 2015 nuclear deal as it did not go far enough to address the alliance’s concerns, and now the bloc is seeking engagement with Iran under a new arrangement. The fact that the GCC spoke in one voice is key, as a united approach enables it to put forth its concerns more forcefully.
Gulf states are eager, too, for a common foreign policy, as this enables them to better preserve the interests of their citizens, while safeguarding them from the vagaries of regional and international conflicts. It is also aimed at preventing or at least limiting any interference in their internal affairs.
In January, Saudi Arabia had hosted a GCC summit in AlUla, bringing an end to a row with Qatar, and infusing the alliance with a fresh sense of purpose. The summit in Riyadh this week certainly ‘bolstered the bonds of fraternity’ between Gulf states.
Even before the Riyadh summit, examples of wider GCC unity abounded. For instance, all GCC states stood by Saudi Arabia after irresponsible comments were made by a Lebanese minister about the Saudi-led Arab intervention in Yemen to uphold the legitimacy of that country’s internationally recognised government.
On the economic front, the Covid-19 pandemic that impacted the global economy also took a toll on Gulf states, which are unique in the Arab world in that they have sophisticated market economies that are more exposed to changes on the international front.
Gulf leaders at the summit were right to stress that the post-pandemic economic challenges will be better tackled when there is cohesion in policies.