Rejuvenation of the GCC a boon for regional interests

Chatham House event notes increased diplomatic efforts since Al Ula agreement

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The Gulf Co-operation Council is focusing on putting aside longstanding geopolitical differences and moving forward together on the shared challenges of the region, leading Middle East experts have told an anniversary seminar at the Chatham House think tank.

The academics told the London-based institution that any nuclear deal with Iran and the United States should involve the agreement of Gulf States and that the GCC, which on Wednesday was marking its 40th anniversary, was the forum through which to achieve co-ordination. The regional union should also continue functioning together to advance the interests of all six countries, the Chatham House webinar heard.

Despite challenges over the last four decades, the experts welcomed the anniversary of the GCC's founding, which brought together the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar as an economic and regional security organisation.

With the Al Ula declaration rejuvenating Gulf unity in January by ending the three-and-a-half-year rift with Qatar, diplomatic ties between the states have been bolstered, the webinar heard.

Bader Al Saif, a Kuwait-based participant, called for the GCC “to continue functioning in a healthy way, in a proper way and in a way that advances the interests of all states”.

He said the GCC states “do not need to cancel one another” and could “integrate themselves”.

The lecturer from the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Centre, speaking from Kuwait, said “being honest, transparent, patient and with a sense of grace,” were the “traits that brought the GCC together”.

Commenting on the ongoing talks between the US and Iran on a nuclear deal, he said there needed to be "a clear message" from the US "both to the GCC governments and Israel that nothing will take place without initial counsel with them as partners".

There should be acknowledgement of the “successes and economic integration” that the bloc has witnessed, said Kristin Smith Diwan, of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

“In the past decades, the GCC has taken some steps towards a customs union and co-ordinating their policies,” she said.

The webinar was also told by Ms Diwan that the post-oil economy posed a challenge as “the most fundamental economic factor” for Gulf states.

Chatham House also heard from Mr Al Saif that some GCC nations were concerned that Turkey and Iran were “messing up with some members”.