UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash called on Saturday for a region-wide response to the protests across the Middle East by developing “a positive vision” that preserves stability.
The Emirati official, addressing the Manama Dialogue, the annual policy forum in Bahrain, brought up the uprisings in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran as major events that should spur the Middle East’s policy makers to act.
“Along with diplomacy we need a positive vision of stability in the wider region as we see many young people take to the streets in Iran, Iraq to Lebanon,” Dr Gargash said.
“We should be working the diplomacy, putting the pressure on but also putting a view with regards to the future stability,” he said.
Dr Gargash pointed Sudan, where Saudi Arabia and the UAE played a major role in the transition under way there after an uprising removed Omar Al Bashir earlier this year.
He said the Sudan transition is “a real success, a clear example of regional countries playing an important role in making diplomacy work”.
Dr Gargash said despite the geopolitical struggles in the Middle East, the core problem in the region was governance.
"As we really watch the demonstrations we recognise very clearly it is foremost about the efficacy of the political-economic system. It is secondly about corruption. It is really about delivery and about governance,” he said.
Dr Gargash said Gulf countries have adapted their foreign policy to deal with meddling by Iran while remaining focused on economic prosperity and improving their educational systems and infrastructure.
"Many of the Gulf countries are criticised by others as a rentier model but it is consistently about social and economic policy,” he said.
"What I would like to see is more of that discussion in the region."
Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel Al Jubeir cautioned against appeasement of Iran, saying Tehran could not be allowed to define its foreign policy by sectarian goals.
After the September 14 drone attacks on Saudi Aramco’s oil facilities, the region was facing a choice between good and evil, Mr Al Jubeir in his address to the conference.
The kingdom is not against dialogue with Tehran, he said, but deterrence needed to be pursued to prevent Iran from repeating the attacks.
“Appeasement did not work with Hitler. It will not work with the Iranian regime,” he said.
Mr Al Jubeir said the international community must “extract a price from Iran” for the attacks, which he said “absolutely clearly” were orchestrated with Iranian weapons and “came from the north and not south”.
“The Iranians cannot be allowed to get away with this,” Mr Al Jubeir said, adding that the kingdom is awaiting the results of an international investigation into the attacks.
Mr Al Jubeir also criticised Tehran’s propagation of sectarianism by de facto claiming that every Shiite belongs to Iran, which he termed “ridiculous”.
“It is like Italy saying every Catholic belongs to Italy. Would Germany accept?” he said.
"What we are seeing in the region is a vision of light and vision of darkness.”
With the region facing a heightened Iranian threat, a senior US defence official sought to ease concerns about Washington’s perceived disengagement from the Middle East.
John Rood, undersecretary of defence for policy, told the Manama Dialogue there were “14,000 reasons” why US “commitment remains very strong” to its Arab Gulf allies, referring to the number of additional US forces that arrived in the region since May.
“There has been some discussion in this conference about whether the US wishes to disengage from the region, whether there was a smaller US commitment toward the Middle East,” Mr Rood said.
“Those 14,000 additional forces were not present here a few months ago,” he said, adding that they aim at “deterring Iranian aggression and providing the US with a formidable array of capabilities to defend against and, if necessary, respond forcefully to Iranian aggression”.
He said the US had also deployed more anti-missile batteries, with Tehran and its proxies having “demonstrated their capabilities and intent to use their missile arsenal as a tool of regional coercion”.
Meanwhile, the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) initiated by Washington to deter Iran had enjoyed “relative success” thanks to improved reconnaissance, the head of the US Central Command said.
The maritime fleet started operations this with Bahrain as its base following a series of attacks on oil ships earlier this year that the US and Saudi Arabia blamed on Iran.
General Kenneth McKenzie Jr told the Manama Dialogue that the IMSC has prevented the type of clandestine attacks Iran had room to mount previously.
“Mercantile ships from several countries have been attacked or confiscated by Iran’s military forces. Had Iran not undertaken their actions, there might not have been a need for the IMSC,” Gen McKenzie said.
Bahrain, a base for the US Fifth Fleet, as well as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are members of the IMSC. Australia and Britain are its main western contributors.
“The biggest key to the IMSC partnership has not been the presence of armed naval vessels in the area but instead the constant stare of reconnaissance assets,” Gen McKenzie said.
He said Iran had made sure in earlier attacks on shipping that its actions were “non-attributable”.
“They do not do so well in the spotlight,” he said. "The value of having additional reconnaissance resources is almost certainly having an effect.”
Speaking earlier, France's armed forces minister had warned of the dangers of US disengagement in the Middle East.
Florence Parly said that while the Arabian Gulf was "accustomed to the ebb and flow of US involvement", America had not pushed back against Tehran after a summer of tensions sparked by President Donald Trump withdrawing unilaterally from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.
She said: "When the mining of ships went unanswered, a drone got shot [down]. When that in turn got unanswered, major oil facilities were bombed. Where does it stop?"