Gulf nations call for unity and focus on building ties with Iran

‘Any danger that threatens one of them, threatens all of them’, leaders say

Gulf Cooperation Council leaders who convened their 42nd summit in Riyadh this week have called for political and economic unity, solidarity, stability and adherence to the “vision of King Salman”.

According to the communique, the king’s vision also involves co-ordination of regional policies, preservation of Gulf interests, avoidance of regional and international conflicts, and enhancement of the role of the six-member grouping in regional and world affairs. The leaders proclaimed that “any danger that threatens one of them, threatens all of them”.

Mending ties with Iran is a priority. Qatar, Kuwait and Oman have diplomatic relations with Iran, but Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates do not. Consequently, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have held negotiations with Iran to achieve this aim.

Despite division, the council as a whole is committed to the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal, which the US abandoned, and which limited Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. Gulf leaders are closely monitoring the ongoing talks in Vienna, fearing violent regional repercussions if they collapse.


It is significant that the summit was attended by two rulers only: Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad and Bahraini king Hamad bin Isa. Oman sent deputy prime minister for cabinet affairs Fahd bin Mahmud al-Said (81), who has guided Oman’s independent policies since assuming the post in 1972.

The other three attendees were successors to frail rulers. Kuwaiti crown prince Mishaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber (81) represented his half-brother, Emir Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah (84).

Problematic partnership

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (36) hosted the summit on behalf of his father, King Salman (85), who has appeared in public once in 20 months and resides in Neom city, far from the capital.

The Emirates was represented by vice-president Mohammed bin Rashid rather than president Mohammed bin Zayed (60), who has reigned over Abu Dhabi and headed the Emirates federation since his half-brother Khalifa (73) was felled by a stroke in 2014.

Bin Zayed initially mentored bin Salman, who was 29 when his father took the throne in January 2015. Their partnership has been problematic, however. At the end of March that year, they launched the disastrous, stalemated Yemen war. They have also cracked down on domestic dissent and in 2017 blockaded Qatar, which refused to follow their lead on key issues. This divided the council until January 2020, when they lifted the blockade, although Qatar did not capitulate.

Separately, they have adopted controversial policies. The West blamed bin Salman for the October 2018 murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Polls revealed the overwhelming majority of Arabs opposed bin Zayed’s August 2020 normalisation of relations with Israel without it making peace with the Palestinians. Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan followed suit, eliciting criticism from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Iraq and Saudi King Salman.