Abu Dhabi: While the regional balance of power has tilted towards the US-allied GCC countries, concern remains that Iran may still be able to change the Middle East’s geopolitical order in its own favour, a regional security conference was told on Monday.
The American policy towards the Gulf region has never changed and it has always been committed to protecting security and stability in the region, Dr Mohammad Bin Huwaidin, professor of international relations and political science at the UAE University, told the conference on Security in the Arabian Gulf, which was co-organised by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.
“So the interim international deal on Iran’s nuclear programme won’t tilt the balance of power in the Middle East towards Tehran,” Dr Bin Huwaidin said.
While the deal to curb but not scrap Iranian uranium enrichment, which the West has long believed was being used to develop a bomb, opened the way for a thaw in the Iranian confrontation with the international community, it has alarmed the six GCC member countries, which fear a new regional hegemony deeply hostile to their interests.
Major General Khalid Al Buainain, former chief of the UAE Air Force, told the conference that with the historic Arab power centres of Egypt, Syria and Iraq all weakened by uprisings and sectarian strife, there is concern that the new realationship with Tehran could help it emerge as a regional power.
“We in the GCC countries are in coma and building defensive weapons, while Iran is building offensive arms,” Major General Al Buainain said.
David Ignatius, Foreign Affairs Columnist for the Washington Post, said that the UAE is going in the right direction, working towards bringing stability and moderation to the region.
Ignatius assured that the US is a reliable friend to the region and its policy is driven by two core ideas: to engage and contain Iran and re-engage with traditional Sunni allies. Ignatius noted that the US was forced to do a lot of the work behind closed doors because diplomacy works better this way. Ignatius noted Iran that now has to prove its nuclear activity is a genuine civilian programme.
Professor Pan Guang, Vice-Chairman of the Shanghai Centre for International Studies (China), explained that China has established good ties not only with the six GCC members but also with Jordan and Morocco. China-GCC bilteral trade is almost $155 billion (Dh569 billion), double that of 10 years ago. Saudi Arabia is No 1 for oil imports, Qatar for gas and Dubai for trade in China. He said the Chinese pay more attention to the GCC because it is stable and there are more opportunities for business. China is concerned about security in the region and as such, among other initiatives, has sent 1,000 soldiers into southern Lebanon to boost the UN peacekeeping force.
Dr Francois Burgat, Researcher at the Instituit de Reserches et d’Etudes sur le Monde Arabe et Musulman, warned that there is no easy way out of the Syrian crisis and he cautioned against imposing a solution from the outside as it would not be good for the country or the surrounding region. Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, emphasised Israel exercises its power in the US through the Israeli lobby, a lobby whose influence extends across the entire spectrum of American interests, not just the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. There has, he observed, been a ‘Europeanisation’ of American policy in the region and they are finding it more productive to use diplomatic solutions. The Iran negotiations were the first time that US President Obama defied Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, he said.
The symposium will continue today and will focus on issues such as the Syrian crisis, Arab unrest, the peace process, Iran and extremism and its causes.