Abu Dhabi: Iran was offered a Gulf initiative seeking to mend ties with GCC and other Arab countries and open a new chapter of cooperation and good neighbourly relations, a regional Gulf security conference heard on Wednesday.
Dr Ebtisam Al Katbi, Chairperson of the Emirates Policy Centre, presented the initiative, which she said is aimed at building “a sustainable security in the Arabian Gulf” at the Conference on Security in the Arabian Gulf co-organised by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.
Dr Ebtisam suggested that the would be Arab League-backed initiative should call for resolving disputes between Iran and GCC countries, foremost of which is the three UAE’s islands occupied by Iran since 1971.
“Iran should also not interfere in the internal affairs of countries of the region, nor should it interfere in the affairs of the Arab states. The two sides should also stop sectarian mobilisation,” Dr Ebtisam, professor of Political Science at the UAE University suggested.
The leading political analyst also suggested that the GCC member countries should be represented in the P5+1 talks on Iran nuclear programme.
The overture came on the backdrop of Tehran’s interim deal with the international community to freeze sanctions imposed on Iran for its attempts to possess nuclear bomb and the Iranian top diplomat’s effort to mend ties with GCC neighbours.
Early this month, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, visited the UAE, having stopped in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman, with the goal of undoing years of regional tensions, not only sectarian but also due to the confrontational approach of Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of deliberately destabilising Syria by supporting militants fighting to overthrow the Syrian government. Iran is accused by the Saudis and the West of supporting not just Syria but Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia that played a critical role in turning the Syrian civil war in the government’s favour in recent months.
In 2010, the White House rebuffed requests by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to “cut off the head of the snake” by destroying Iran’s nuclear sites in a military strike, according to leaked United States diplomatic cables.
Dr Ebtisam said that Iran must cease to threaten the security of the waterways and present guarantees to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the P5+1 that their nuclear programme will not lead to a nuclear weapons programme.
“In return, the GCC countries would guarantee that their territories would not be used as a launching pad for any attack against Iran,” Dr Ebtisam said.
Dr Mohammad Bin Huwaidin, professor of International Relations and Political Science at the UAE University, praised the initiative as a “credible foundation for relations with Iran”.
However, he demanded that non-interference in each others internal affairs be the common responsibility of both parties – the GCC countries and Iran.
Dr Abdullah Al Shaiji, Chairman of the political Science Department at Kuwait University, said more coordination between GCC countries is needed and alliances are the road to the future.
He suggested that GCC countries will have to look to diversify their relationships with international actors and emphasised the importance of China after it surpassed the United States as the world’s largest oil importer.
Ambassador Richard Makepeace, Registrar of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, stressed the need for the GCC countries to ensure the security of energy and water infrastructure such as desalination plants from attacks, the environment, cyber threats and international crime.
Makepeace warned the countries face a significant challenge in creating the correct social and economic environment to ensure young nationals are motivated to contribute to the national good.
Dr Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, warned the region’s desalination plants represent very strategic targets and the countries face problems if they are targeted as there is no way to replace them swiftly.
He cautioned there needs to be more cooperation and working dialogue between the GCC countries.
Dr Abdul Hamid Al Ansari, former dean of Islamic law at the Qatar University, said that politicising of religion was one of the biggest problems facing the region and removal of religion from politics will lead to the eventual elimination of extremism in society.