DUBAI – Analysts say a united Arab front against Iran looks less likely after the Gulf Cooperation Council this week delayed deciding on forming a stronger political union.
Speaking at the talks in Riyadh on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the announcement of a new union had been postponed so that all GCC states could be included and “not only two.”
Media reports predicted Saudi Arabia and Bahrain would form an initial alliance that other Gulf countries could join at a later date.
The two Sunni-ruled nations believe neighboring Iran is fomenting Shi’ite unrest within their borders and say a stronger alliance of Sunni states would prevent Tehran from extending its influence. Iran, the region’s Shi’ite powerhouse, denies the accusations.
Tensions between Iran and its neighbors are simmering and have resulted in angry diplomatic exchanges.
The United Arab Emirates this month recalled its ambassador from Tehran after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the Persian Gulf island of Abu Musa which is claimed by both countries.
Speaking of Monday’s meeting, Salman Shaikh, the director of the Brookings Doha Center, says even the preliminary accord of Gulf states proved too complex to tackle. “There needs to be a lot more work done and the last few hours of intense discussions was not enough,” he said.
Gulf states have vowed to continue examining ways of forming a stronger GCC and present their findings at the group’s next meeting in December.
Christian Koch, director of international relations at the Gulf Research Center, says officials have many questions that still need answering. “I think here we are looking at more of an idea at the moment in terms of what does ‘union’ actually mean rather than something where we see the GCC evolving along the lines of something like the European Union in the very near term. There are still a lot of details that have to be discussed,” he said.
The GCC is a loose political and economic alliance that, in addition to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, also includes Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. It was formed in 1981 in the wake of perceived threats from Iran following the Iranian revolution.
According to Koch, Iran continues to be the main foreign issue for the Gulf Arab countries. “Certainly at the moment we do face a situation with Iran which calls for closer cooperation among the GCC states,” he said.
While some efforts towards greater cooperation among member states have been successful over the years, others, such as implementing a common currency, have not. Analysts say some smaller counties fear greater unity could undermine their national sovereignty and that this will be the biggest sticking point in forming a future union.